As the Historical Enquiries Team prepares to reopen files on 3,268 killings by terrorists and security forces from Monday, Dave Cox said last night they would prosecute any suspect if there was enough evidence. “Our contact with the (victims’) families is dictated by their wishes but we also have a public statutory duty to investigate crime,” he said.
“We are an impartial and objective police team and we will go where the evidence takes us.”
There has been speculation the team, whose work will focus on a period from April 1969 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, could uncover the involvement of republican and loyalist politicians in the killings.
Mr Cox said his team’s primary concern will be how victims’ families would like to have their cases resolved. This may not necessarily mean pursuing suspects through the courts.
“I have had somebody in front of me saying that they never got the chance to say goodbye to their dad and they wanted to see the pictures of the scene,” he said.
“There will be some cases where we can help, where we can answer. There will be some cases where our answers will be unacceptable and cases where we just can’t help because there is nothing we can do.
“But what they will get from us is honesty. It’s about families and it about what they want.”
The British Government has set aside £24.3 million (€35m) for the 84-person team. Another £7.3m (€10.65m) has been allocated for forensic scientists’ work in support of cases.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said the team’s efforts “will be of vital importance as we continue to move the peace process forward and assist those who have been directly affected to reach some understanding and closure”.
Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Irwin Montgomery, said the review team’s work was a clear signal that crime cannot be allowed to go unacknowledged.
“I hope those who think they have got away with past atrocities will now start to look over their shoulders and realise justice may catch up with them,” he said.
SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said the cold case review was a brave and good idea.
Sinn Féin’s victims spokesman Philip McGuigan said: “However much this scheme is dressed up, it is still an internal unit of the PSNI, and is very much the case of the state investigating the state.
“The PSNI record to date in cases of state murder has been one of cover-up and concealment.”