23 January 2006

Justice groups slam Historical Enquiries Team


Campaigners say they won’t cooperate with British government-run investigative agencies

by Jarlath Kearney

Families affected by state violence will not co-operate with any system for addressing the North’s past which is run by British government agencies, the Andersonstown News can reveal.

Campaigners and relatives on behalf of victims of state violence last night voiced deep concerns about attempts by the British government to cover up its past actions.

The Andersonstown News understands the PSNI is set to launch a major public relations drive for the recently formed Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

The HET (known as C8) was jointly announced last year by secretary of state Paul Murphy and chief constable Hugh Orde, ostensibly to investigate unsolved killings during the course of the conflict.

However the HET falls within the organisational auspices of the PSNI’s Crime Operations Department (COD). The new unit also has a dedicated Special Branch intelligence cell attached to it.

Pearse McShane's unarmed 16-year-old brother, Martin, was shot dead by Royal Marines in County Tyrone in 1971. Mr McShane was adamant that his family will not accept any mechanism for dealing with the past which is not international and independent.

“We are led to believe that this Historical Enquiries Team will be dealing with what are called ‘cold cases'," Mr McShane said.

“In our own case, 30 years ago, the agencies of the state didn't properly investigate Martin's murder.

“In Martin's case, they claimed that residue on Martin's body came from him being in possession of weapons whereas they were aware that it actually came from the soldiers who shot him coming into contact with him. Now either they couldn't or they wouldn't investigate it properly.

“But in that context we - and many other families in similar circumstances - would have no confidence in any state forces investigating their own state forces.

“In nearly all cases where there have been controversial shootings throughout the last 30 years, the state has failed the victims. And this cosmetic exercise by the PSNI's HET is simply the same kind of pattern under a new name. You only need to remember Stalker and Sampson and Stevens.

“Since we started to open Martin's case over the last twelve years we have been continuously fobbed off and held up, and even on occasion told lies. For instance there were certain documents we were told had been destroyed and next they turned up in a Coroner's office in Derry."

Demanding “a totally independent, international truth mechanism", Mr McShane said that affirming the truth about his brother's murder would be “a step in the direction of justice".

“Nothing else would be acceptable," Mr McShane said.
Relatives for Justice (RFJ) - which has campaigned on behalf of the McShane family - last night expressed serious concern about the HET.

“Essentially this is a limited police and criminal justice initiative aimed at addressing the past in the context of a very noticeable absence of a proper truth recovery process which at its heart should be both non-punitive and contribute to peace-building," Mark Thompson of RFJ said.

“Importantly, the very same institutions that were at the heart of the conflict as protagonists are undertaking this initiative and are answerable to Peter Hain. It is not independent. Any process that examines the past must adhere to internationally recognised protocols and must be international, independent and inclusive," Mr Thompson said.

“It must also be transparent, accountable and have public confidence especially the confidence and support of all those affected by the conflict. Centrally it must equally be victim-centered and victim-led which has clearly not occurred.”

He added: “The PSNI’s HET does not constitute these criteria and is unacceptable to hundreds of families affected by the conflict, not least those affected by the state.”

An FhÌrinne, the anti-collusion campaign, also backed calls for an independent, international inquiry into state violence.

Robert McClenaghan of An FhÌrinne told the Andersonstown News that the HET mechanism is “neither an adequate nor viable method of providing the truth about the history and policy of collusion over the past 35 years".

“Those who organised, equipped and ran the death squads are effectively being asked to furnish the HET with information, evidence and witnesses. In our opinion, only an international independent inquiry will have the authority to and the confidence to resolve the issue of these hundreds of outstanding cases," Mr McClenaghan said.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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