#018/2013 – The Historical Enquiries Team’s approach to reviewing deaths during ‘the troubles’ is inconsistent, has serious shortcomings and so risks public confidence, HMIC finds

Inconsistencies and shortcomings in policies, systems and practices threaten the legitimacy of the Historical Enquiries Team’s work, and risk undermining the confidence of the families of those who died during ‘the troubles’ in its effectiveness and impartiality.

Upon the request of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2012, the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to inspect the role and function of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). The inspection focused on whether the HET’s approach to reviewing military cases conforms to current policing standards and policy; if it adopts a consistent approach to all cases (i.e. both military and paramilitary cases); and if the HET’s review process meets the requirements that would ensure it is compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (i.e. independence, effectiveness, promptness, and transparency and accountability).

The inspection found that:

  • the HET is not conforming to current policing standards in a significant number of important areas. In particular, HMIC found a lack of explicit systems and processes; different teams adopting different working practices; no clearly defined complaints process; and (until now) no independent review of the HET’s processes;
  • the HET treats state involvement cases differently as a matter of policy and this appears to be based on a misinterpretation of the law. This is entirely wrong, and has led to state involvement cases being reviewed with less rigour in some areas than non-state cases; and
  • as a result, HMIC considers that the HET’s approach to state involvement cases is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under Article 2 ECHR.

HMIC makes a number of recommendations in the report, which it considers need to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Stephen Otter said:

“HMIC is concerned that the inconsistencies we found in our review may seriously undermine the capability of the HET’s processes to determine whether the force used in killings during ‘the troubles’ was justified in state involvement cases, therefore potentially preventing the identification and punishment of those responsible.

Our recommendations set out fundamental improvements that the PSNI and the HET need to make in order to ensure the team is effective in delivering its objectives in a way that: is consistent with the requirements of Article 2 ECHR; and commands the confidence of the public of Northern Ireland – and, in particular, of the families of the victims of ‘the troubles’.

The HET was created and continues to operate within an extraordinarily complex social and political context, which presented those who established it with challenges unparalleled in UK terms.

However, this context makes it even more important for the HET to operate to the highest standards of effectiveness and impartiality, so that the people of Northern Ireland – and in particular, the families of the victims whose cases are being reviewed – can have confidence in it.”


Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report will be available on the HMIC website from 2pm on 03 July 2013: www.hmic.gov.uk
  2. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the British Transport Police and HMRC.
  3. The Police Service of Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was established in 2005 in order to re-examine all 3,260 deaths attributed to ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
  4. Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:
    Article 2 imposes a negative obligation not to take life without justification, and a positive obligation to establish a framework of laws, precautions, procedures and means of enforcement which will, to the greatest extent reasonably practicable protect life. It also imposes an obligation on states to conduct an effective official investigation where individuals have been killed as a result of the use of force. (McCann v UK (1995) 21 EHRR 97)
  5. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  6. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.