HET future under scrutiny in light of republican letters (Belfast NewsLetter)

The collapse of the Hyde Park bomb case against John Downey has led to questions over the future of a body set up to investigate Troubles murders.

A former loyalist paramilitary yesterday called for the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to be scrapped, saying investigations into loyalists dating back decades could not continue in light of the revelations around republican “on the runs” who had been given so-called amnesty letters.

While 187 republicans were given the letters of comfort assuring them they would not be prosecuted, no loyalists received such correspondence.

“The HET needs to go away today,” former UDA man Billy McQuiston told the BBC.

“Loyalists cannot be put in prison anymore for crimes that happened 20, 30 years ago, when republicans have a get-out-of-jail-free card in their back pocket.”

The HET’s work was suspended last year after a report found it had investigated killings by the Army “with less vigour” than other cases.

Rathfriland man Sammy Heenan, whose father was murdered by the IRA in 1985, has warned against trying to deal with more than one cause of concern at a time.

“I’ve had quite a positive experience [with the HET] but I think I am a realist about the thing,” he told the News Letter.

“I knew quite a lot about what had happened before they started their investigation. I never had much hope of a prosecution as there was no DNA evidence. I don’t think I’ll ever have closure. I want to know why it happened.

“I understand where people are coming from [calling for the HET to be axed] but I think we need to sort out this [on the runs] before we look at the HET.”

A victims counsellor on Friday said he had witnessed a level of dissatisfaction “from both sides” of the community regarding the HET’s work and its outcomes.

The Co Down man, who did not wish to be named, said many victims ended up being re-traumatised by the process and did not receive any closure from the investigations.

The 48 year-old said he has seen an increase in the volume of inquiries seeking counselling in recent days – something he puts down to the outcome of the John Downey case.

A spokesperson for the HET said that, as of April last year, the body had passed 26 cases relating to republican terrorists to the police, and 13 relating to loyalist terrorists, adding: “Through its work the team seeks to help to bring a measure of resolution to the families of those who died.”


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