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30 September 2004 Edition

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Relatives deserve real truth process

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice

MARK THOMPSON is the Director of Relatives for Justice, a support organisation working with people affected by the conflict. He has also been part of the wider Eolas initiative that produced an extensive consultation document on dealing with the past, including possible truth recovery models. This can be downloaded at www.relativesforjustice.com

The announcement, made by British Secretary of State Paul Murphy at the British Labour Party conference in Brighton on Tuesday 28 September, to allocate £9 million in additional revenue to the RUC/PSNI's Serious Crime Review Team, follows pressure from Irwin Montgomery, chair of the Police Federation.

Montgomery speaking at the Police Federation conference on 15 September, called on the NIO to allocate the extra cash to fund investigations into 1,800 cases of 'innocent victims' killed in the North's 30-year conflict. At the time, Montgomery stated that this "offers a far better prospect of closure than any misconceived notion of a truth and reconciliation commission".

Clearly, Montgomery's speech and Murphy's announcement were choreographed.

Despite the figure of 1,800, excluding killings carried out by the RUC and the British Army, Murphy's announcement also conveniently sidesteps the supposedly ongoing consultation announced by him earlier this year into dealing with the past. To date, no group representing people affected by the conflict has been consulted with. Instead, we have an announcement that essentially ignores any concept of taking forward outstanding issues pertaining to the conflict in a meaningful, positive and constructive manner within the context of resolving conflict.

It is evident that the British Government is seeking to create a mechanism that safeguards the interests of the state by preventing proper examination of the role of its forces and agents during the conflict. At the same time, they are attempting to undermine a truly genuine truth recovery process, supported across the community and by civil society, that encompasses all actions during the conflict.

The Serious Crime Review Team was set-up in the aftermath of the 2001 European Court ruling in Strasbourg, which found that the investigative procedures relating to killings involving the state, including killings where collusion was alleged, were in default of the international standards. In short deliberately inept.

This included the role of the RUC, the DPP and the Inquest Court.

The European Court found:

• that some of those killed were threatened by the RUC prior to their deaths;

• RUC failure to secure crime scenes or collect relevant forensic evidence, in numerous killings families removed bullets and cartridges from their furniture and homes after the RUC had left;

• witnesses to killings were not interviewed and on occasion threatened and intimidated from providing evidence;

• evidence was 'lost' or overlooked;

• cameras, controlled by the RUC which overlooked murder scenes, and which could have detected the killers, were either allegedly switched off, 'not working', or recorded over;

• RUC files and information on people killed were passed on to the assassins;

• loyalist assassins were provided with weapons from South Africa imported by state agents;

• Special Branch, under the Walker Report, had influence on prosecutions, thereby avoiding exposure of their agents in killings and recruiting killers as agents in return for not prosecuting them;

• defence lawyers were threatened;

• the role of the DPP was influenced by the Attorney General, as exemplified in the Brian Nelson case;

• inquests were restrictive and had Public Interest Immunity Certificates imposed under the pretense of 'national security'.

In short, can Paul Murphy assure us that these cases will be investigated properly this time round? Can Paul Murphy assure us that none of the officers in the Serious Crime Review Team have not been party to or directly involved in any of the above criminal behaviour?

The reality is that the setting up of the Serious Crime Review Team was to counter the possible effects of the European Court ruling, which many hundreds of families interpreted as retrospective through the courts, thereby establishing proper effective and compliant investigations into the killing of their loved ones. However, earlier this year in what was clearly a political intervention to avoid investigating killings involving the state, the House of Lords ruled that the European Court verdict was not retrospective.

The decision to allocate £9 million to assist with PSNI/RUC control of their internal process will inevitably be one of exoneration and revision of state culpability for the hundreds of killings in which justice was deliberately denied. The RUC were at the heart of these killings and their subsequent cover-ups. This is especially compelling in their absolute inability to hold accountable and bring to justice the loyalist perpetrators responsible for the killings of hundreds of Catholics at the height of the conflict, simply because those loyalists were indeed agents of the state. The question for Murphy is, how then can he justify the allocation of £9 million to an organisation that was deeply implicated in countless murders?

Any process that examines the past must be independent, transparent, accountable, and have public confidence and support. Clearly, the team of detectives working as the 'Serious Crime Review Team' who are tasked with examining unsolved killings do not constitute the criteria acceptable to hundreds of families affected by state and state-sponsored violence.

Further, they do not fulfill the generally accepted protocols associated with examining the past as part of a conflict resolution process. This is based on the simple principle that to honestly examine the past, one must not be implicated in any actions being examined or hold a vested interest in the final outcome. Of course, everyone knows and accepts that the PSNI/RUC were involved and have an interest in any outcome.

It is time for Paul Murphy to engage the entire community and support organisations working with people injured and bereaved by the conflict. He should recommend the establishment of a Patten-style body to carry out a proper consultation process aimed at delivering recommendations on how possibly we may deal with our collective past.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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