Victims' needs come first, PSNI chief says

The needs of victims must be paramount when devising a way of dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past, the region’s new chief constable has said.

George Hamilton outlined his view on tackling the ever controversial legacy issue in the wake of his predecessor’s call for a new investigatory body to assume responsibility for the thousands of historic unsolved crimes linked to the conflict.

Earlier this month Matt Baggott, addressing his oversight body the Northern Ireland Policing Board for the last time, called for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to be liberated from investigating the past so it could focus on present day policing issues. He reiterated that view on his last day in office last week.

Taking over the helm of the PSNI today, Mr Hamilton said Mr Baggott had made some “valid points”.

He added: “What I would say is the policing of the past for the victims and the families is not some historical issue, it’s hurt and pain that they feel today.

“We need to find a way, through the politics and through the institutions, of finding a way of dealing with that in a way that meets victims’ needs, meets families’ needs.

“I think that is entirely consistent with what my predecessor was saying last week.

“But I will want to be very careful not to undermine or diminish the hurt that people are feeling and actually the criminal justice, the investigative route, is just one mechanism for acknowledging the past and dealing with some of the hurt that exists out there.”

Stalled political proposals on the past outlined by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass envisage a new investigatory body for Troubles killings running alongside another mechanism aimed at truth recovery about crimes where prosecutions are unlikely.

At the start of the month, Mr Baggott told the Policing Board he supported the concept of taking historic investigations away from the PSNI to enable it to focus more fully on policing the here and now.

“It is time to deal with the past in a different way, which does not ignore it but moves it to one side and puts leadership, investigation and resolution in different, independent hands,” he said.

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