Last September Chief Constable George Hamilton made a speech in Oxford which was significant in tone and content regarding the PSNI and dealing with the past.
Only a few months into the job, the speech appeared to create a break with the awful record of his predecessor Matt Baggott who clearly hadn’t had a notion as to the role of Dealing with the Past in building a peaceful future.
George Hamilton appeared to be different. Despite being former RUC- or maybe because – he seemed to instinctively get it. He immediately addressed the extraordinary impasse of failure to provide information on multiple killings to the Police Ombudsman – which had resulted in the Ombudsman being forced to take the PSNI to court to demand that information. Upon appointment it was one of Hamilton’s first tasks to address this in a positive manner.
Then the speech in Oxford, which had shown insight and commitment to the plight of victims from every background and the role the PSNI needed to play. And, equally importantly what role they should not play.
Last week however Mr Hamilton undid much of that good work.
In the face of the Panorama programme’s devastating explanation of the scale of collusion he defended the most indefensible of RUC actions and policy.
The dismissal of the Panorama programme’s findings by saying the use of agents saved lives was as callous as it was a blatant denial of the facts.
When British army/UDA agent Brian Nelson was on trial in 1991, Brigadier Gordon Kerr of the Force Research Unit said he had saved hundreds of lives. George Hamilton’s words echoed that day of notoriety. The truth we all know now was that the opposite was the case. State agencies – the RUC, British army, Security Service all believed that the carnage being wreaked on the streets was legitimate, as part of their policy of the day.
Since that trial we have read the few pages we are allowed to read of John Stevens’ reports, Judge Peter Cory’s reports and the De Silva Review. And we know far from saving lives, hundreds of lives were brutally taken.
It is worth bearing in mind that all of the information disclosed by those reports pertains to the point when Brian Nelson was arrested in 1990. We all know the conflict grew ever more intense following that date and that many more families lost loved ones after that as security force agents killed with impunity.
It is an insult to all of those families – from all communities and backgrounds – to suggest collusion saved lives. It is an insult to our transitional society. And it affects confidence in the PSNI itself.
The only other voice expressing such Orwellian denial is the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association. An organisation that appears to be top heavy in influence from former Special Branch. This body is a continual blockage to truth, disclosure and human rights compliance. But they are influential. It would appear this week their influence remains a matter of significant public concern.
The Policing Board must move urgently to ensure that this matter is clarified.