HET leadership row escalates

September 9, 2013

The Historical Enquiries Team director, Dave Cox, should step down from his role once the new leadership team is in place at the end of September – that is the view of Policing Board members who are currently embroiled in a bitter row with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott about when the beleaguered boss should leave.

Tensions came to a head last Thursday during a private meeting where Matt Baggott told members of the board that a new HET leadership team would be in place by 28 September, but that Dave Cox would remain in place until the end of December.  Heated exchanges followed with board members insisting they want Cox to leave at the end of this month and angry that the HET has completed reports on a number of non-military killings despite being told not to do so.

The HET was created in 2005 to investigate more than 3000 unsolved killings over the course of the Troubles, including the hundreds of murders carried out by members of state forces. Among the cases they are investigating are the killing of the Reavey brothers by British Army troops in 1976 and the murder of 11 year old Derrybeg boy Kevin Heatley by a British soldier in 1973.

The investigative organisation has come under heavy fire since a highly critical inspection report published in July this year found that the HET were not as rigorous when investigating murders carried out by military troops during the troubles.  Chairwoman of the policing board, Anne Connolly made the board’s position clear in a subsequent public meeting in July, declaring the board had no confidence in the leadership of the team and calling for a suspension of all military case reviews. She also recommended that all other reviews should continue but not be finalised until all the necessary reforms were completed.

In the wake of July’s HMIC report Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said it confirmed there must be an alternative to the HET set up and that the organisation had acted unlawfully.

“Everything that has been uncovered about the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team approach to state killings is an affront to those citizens who lost loved ones during the conflict,” he said at the time

“What has been suffered by bereaved families must be openly and urgently investigated, including the questioning of police officers or civilian staff in the HET or PSNI who may have perverted the course of justice.”

Mr Cox is currently on leave while his future employment is discussed.  The ensuing row over his future has led to increasing criticism of Matt Baggott’s handling of the situation, with some sources warning the crisis could soon develop into one about the leadership of the PSNI if the issue is not resolved quickly.

During last week’s public meeting Baggott said he was implementing the recommendations of the policing board but was aware of “confidence issues”.

“If necessary, all options are open, including suspending the HET if we can’t agree the terms of reference, then we’ll move on that,” he said.

“But at the moment I’ll fulfill the recommendations whilst we have discussions around its role, its purpose, its focus and what it should be.”

The Chief Constable also said he had misunderstood the board’s intentions that no further investigation reports should be finalised.

Board members remained dissatisfied however, with many accusing Mr Baggott of taking too long to address criticisms published in the inspection report two months ago.

The policing board has now invited the chief constable to what it has described as an “urgent meeting” next Thursday to discuss the leadership of the HET and the fact that it has continued to complete investigation reports.