An insight into why this is the case came this week in a leaked report on another of these bodies – the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). The HET is a special police unit which was set in 2005 up by the PSNI chief constable to re-examine murders committed during the Troubles. A report by a University of Ulster academic, who was given unprecedented access to the team for two years, has called now called its independence and effectiveness into question.
The main point of the report by Dr Patricia Lundy is that that the HET has been compromised by the presence of so many former RUC and Special Branch officers in senior positions. This is despite assurances given at the time of the establishment of the HET that it would recruit the majority of detectives from outside Northern Ireland and would limit the involvement of former members of the RUC, particularly Special Branch.
According to Dr Lundy the HET is over reliant on former RUC officers. "It appears that ‘the old guard’ play a key role in the management and access to intelligence and perform a censoring role in respect of disclosure," she writes. "All aspects of intelligence are managed by former RUC and Special Branch officers". At the time of the research, the Intelligence Unit (IU) was staffed by 18 former RUC and Special Branch officers.
In November 2007 the HET had 166 staff, including 67 former RUC officers. Two former RUC Special Branch officers and a former British army soldier hold key senior positions within the HET. It is the view of Dr Lundy’s that such "strategic positioning" of former RUC officers, and particularly those with a Special Branch background, "not only undermines actual but perceived independence".
While the unit was reported to be investigating more than 1,000 cases during the two-year study, Dr Lundy said the figure actually referred to the number of cases that had ‘gone into the system’. "It is my opinion that a very creative use of language has been employed to describe a process which in the majority of cases is essentially a ‘desktop review’," she writes.
It is also Dr Lundy’s assessment that "political considerations" have impacted HET’s decision-making process. Her report states: "HET are acutely aware of the extreme sensitivity of the cases under review and their likely political ramifications" and that there has been a "reluctance on the part of senior management to make difficult decisions and deliver perceived unpopular findings."