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PSNI Historic Enquiries Team

#1
Army Briefing Note 34-05: PSNI Historic Enquiries

The audience for this ABN are: 'members of the Army who served in NI at any time between 1969 and 1998'.

Key points:

A. The NIO announced earlier this year that the PSNI intend to review more than 2000 ‘unresolved’ deaths that occurred between 1969 and 1998 in Northern Ireland. More than 300 of these are attributed to the security forces;

B. It is possible that some serving and former soldiers will be interviewed as part of the PSNI Historic Review – most are likely to be interviewed as witnesses, although it is possible that some will be interviewed as suspects. In either case, the MOD will provide serving and former soldiers with whatever support is appropriate;

C. The PSNI has started to investigate the deaths on a chronological basis from 1969 onwards. It is anticipated that it will take up to five years for preliminary investigations to be completed into all 2000 deaths;

D. Any decision to prosecute will be made by the PSNI and Director of Public Prosecutions, not by the Army chain of command or the Army Prosecuting Authority.

POLICE SERVICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND INVESTIGATIONS INTO DEATHS CAUSED DURING THE TROUBLES AND NORTHERN IRELAND ‘ON THE RUN’ LEGISLATION

ISSUE

1. The implications for the Armed Forces of two significant Northern Ireland Office (NIO)-led initiatives which seek to bring closure to contentious issues arising from the Troubles. The initiatives are: the introduction to Parliament of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill to address NI paramilitaries ‘On the Run’ and the commencement of investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Historic Enquiries Team (HET). Both issues have received significant, often misleading, media coverage in NI and GB.

AUDIENCE

2. This ABN is directly relevant to members of the Army who served in NI at any time between 1969 and 1998.

KEY POINTS

PSNI HET Investigations:

• The NIO announced earlier this year that the PSNI intend to review more than 2000 ‘unresolved’ deaths that occurred between 1969 and 1998 in Northern Ireland. More than 300 of these are attributed to the security forces. These include deaths that have already been investigated through the courts (coroners, civil and/or criminal) but which have not been resolved in the eyes of victims’ families – for example, because of security restrictions at the time of a death the family of a victim may not have been given as much information as could now be provided to them from the case files, given the passage of time and in some cases reduced sensitivity. The PSNI hope to bring closure to many cases through the simple provision of additional information.
• It is possible that some serving and former soldiers will be interviewed as part of the PSNI Historic Review – most are likely to be interviewed as witnesses, although it is possible that some will be interviewed as suspects. In either case, the MOD will provide serving and former soldiers with whatever support is appropriate.

• The PSNI has started to investigate the deaths on a chronological basis from 1969 onwards. It is anticipated that it will take up to five years for preliminary investigations to be completed into all 2000 deaths. If there are related prosecutions these are likely to take several years to come to fruition.
• Any decision to prosecute will be made by the PSNI and Director of Public Prosecutions, not by the Army chain of command or the Army Prosecuting Authority.
‘On the Run’ legislation:

• The Government is introducing legislation to resolve the issue of paramilitary personnel ‘On the Run’. This bill is known as the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. It will bring the treatment of ‘On the Runs’, and others charged with relevant offences, into line with the provisions of the paramilitary prisoner Early Release Scheme introduced several years ago.

• The Bill specifically covers offences “under the law of any part of the United Kingdom committed before 10th April 1998 in connection with terrorism and the affairs of Northern Ireland (whether committed for terrorist purposes or not).”

• The Bill enables those covered by its provisions to apply to an Eligibility Commissioner for a certificate. Successful applicants will be prosecuted by a Special Tribunal and, if convicted, immediately released on licence.

• If a soldier, in the very unlikely event that he is charged with an offence, meets the criteria laid down in the legislation, he will be able to use the same procedure to apply to an Eligibility Commissioner.

• Any soldier charged with an offence will be provided with the appropriate support.

• The Bill has just been introduced to Parliament. It is not possible to specify how long it will take before it is enacted but details may change during the legislative process. Additional information will be made available upon enactment of the Bill.

BACKGROUND

3. The PSNI Historic Enquiries Team has been established to review more than 2000 unresolved deaths caused during the troubles. A 6RMP Historical Information Team has been established in Headquarters Northern Ireland (HQNI) to co-ordinate the response to PSNI requests for information in connection with the case reviews. They are not undertaking any investigative responsibilities in relation to the review.

Don Touhig, Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently said of the investigations in the House of the Commons:

“The British armed forces have a reputation second to none for the high standards of behavior that they set for themselves. Our forces would be the first to say that they are always required to act within the law. As for the activities of our forces in Northern Ireland, I think that they carried out their duties with fortitude and skill in incredibly difficult circumstances. They were never intended to be, and should not be, above the law. We have no doubt, however, that in circumstances affecting investigations of any actions of our troops, they will have all the legal advice that they need from the Ministry of Defence… It is important for us to continue to demonstrate that support for our forces in difficult circumstances.”

4. The rationale behind the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill is that as part of the Peace Process, under the Early Release Scheme, individuals who had been convicted of offences which qualified under the proposed legislation had been released on licence. The legislation will provide that same opportunity to people accused of equivalent offences who were outside UK jurisdiction or are subsequently charged with an equivalent offence.

5. There are two categories of individual who may be eligible to apply for a certificate under the proposed legislation. The first category is defined as individuals who are currently wanted for specific offences pre-1998, but cannot be arrested because they are outside UK jurisdiction. The second category is wider and relates to individuals who are not currently linked with any qualifying offences but are subsequently charged with one or more such offences. This means that current or former members of the Armed Forces, who fall into the second category, may be eligible to apply for a certificate should they be charged with a qualifying offence.

6. The Bill has had its first and second reading in the House of Commons and is now in the Committee phase.
 

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