27 November 2005

‘On-the-run’ legislation unfair say senior police

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke
27 November 2005

POLICE officers who are reinvestigating murders during the Troubles have described aspects of the British government’s on-the-run legislation as “unfair”. They say it should be amended so that suspects they charge are forced to answer questions publicly at a tribunal.

They have also predicted that no member of the security forces will be charged with the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane, although it has been established that members of the army colluded in his killing.

Dave Cox, a former Metropolitan Police commander, and Phil James, a detective superintendent on secondment from the Met, are leading the Northern Ireland Historic Cases Review team, known as C8, which will review 1,800 unsolved murders and 320 disputed security force killings during the Troubles.

They are building up a team of 50 detectives, forensic scientists and other staff throughout Britain and Ireland. One garda is among the applicants.

The Northern Ireland Offences Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons last week, will allow anybody guilty of a security force or terrorist killing before the signing of the Good Friday agreement to be dealt with by a special tribunal, with no need for them to turn up in person.

In contrast, witnesses and victims can be subpoenaed to attend and can be cross-examined by the accused’s lawyers. Any suspects found guilty will immediately be released on licence.

Cox and James worked for the Stevens inquiry, which investigated security force collusion in killings. The remaining elements of that inquiry have been subsumed by C8. Stevens will retain an oversight role on parts of the inquiry where collusion is suspected.

Cox says he agrees with comments made by Paul Murphy, the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, that the legislation should be amended.

James said: “Anyone who gets to the point where they are going to be charged for one of these historical offences can then also apply to be dealt with by this tribunal. We have been cops a long time and we are used to working with the law as it is, but it would seem unfair that a defendant doesn’t have to appear while a witness does. There is unfairness in that.”

Their criticisms reflect widespread concern in political and security circles about the legislation. Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable, has proposed that, rather than being allowed to wait to see if they are charged, suspects should be given a fixed time in which to apply for the concessions.

“There is no incentive at the minute for anyone to come forward,” he said.

Lord Rooker, the Northern Ireland Office minister responsible for steering the legislation through the House of Lords, has described the bill as “evil but necessary” and conceded that it will have to be amended.

In a BBC interview he said: “This bill will not pass the Lords as it is currently drafted . . . (it) is not acceptable to the majority of the people . . . The fact is changes may be made in the Commons and some left till it gets to the Lords, but it will get a very rough ride.”

Cox and James also say that it is unlikely that any member of the armed forces will be charged in connection with the murder of Finucane, although they hope that more loyalists will. Finucane’s murder in 1989 has been investigated by Stevens since 1999 and James has been centrally involved. Cox has headed the Stevens team on a day-to-day basis for the past three years.

Cox said: “Our focus is going to change, we are looking at all the deaths in the Troubles.”

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