Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

PSNI pledge over Operation Ballast investigation

UVF mural
Operation Ballast has investigated a number of UVF murders

The head of the PSNI's serious crime branch has promised a vigorous investigation into loyalist killings in north Belfast in the 1990s.

The Historical Enquiries Team re-examined at least 10 murders blamed on the UVF.

Now at least 20 more cases are to be taken on by the PSNI itself.

Despite allegations of past police collusion, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris promised a thorough approach into the investigation.

"We are totally accountable to the (Policing) Board and the board are now looking at how they will ensure oversight and accountability," he said.

"I am a warranted officer so therefore I am subject to the police ombudsman's investigations as well.

"So there is a full mechanism of rigorous accountability and oversight in respect of all that I do and that my officers do in respect of these investigations."

"But I think we should be actually judged on our results and the results that we actually achieve in these investigations."

Operation Ballast investigated a UVF gang based in the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast.

People aren't getting second best here - it's very much around bringing killers to justice and that's what we're determined to do
ACC Drew Harris

The original probe was set up amid claims that the security forces colluded with UVF members over the killings.

Former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, claimed paramilitary killers were protected from prosecution because they were police agents.

She examined the allegations after a complaint from Belfast man Raymond McCord, whose son, Raymond McCord Junior, was murdered by the UVF in 1997.

'Cutting edge'

ACC Harris said all allegations of police misconduct would by law be investigated by the ombudsman and any evidence uncovered by his officers would be given to the ombudsman.

He said the serious crime branch was best suited to carry on a live investigation into murder.

"We know what we're doing, we're at the cutting edge of investigative techniques and we're also at the cutting edge of national standards," he said.

Operation Ballast
Set up by Police Ombudsman in 2002 after complaint by Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF
Mr McCord alleged some of the UVF killers were being protected because they were police informers
The ombudsman's report published in 2007 upheld a number of Mr McCord's complaints
The investigation was taken over by the Historical Enquiries Team which has charged more than a dozen men with serious crimes including murder
The investigation is transferred to the PSNI's serious crime branch

"So people aren't getting second best here - it's very much around bringing killers to justice and that's what we're determined to do."

On Thursday, the SDLP criticised the decision to transfer the investigation.

Assembly and Policing Board member Attwood said he had a number of concerns and the move required "the greatest scrutiny".

He said that families and victims had "a level of confidence" in investigations carried out by the HET and this may not cross over to a PSNI-led investigation.

"The SDLP will listen to why the PSNI believe the Ballast investigation will be more complete and more successful if conducted by the PSNI," Mr Attwood said.

"However, those arguments must be balanced carefully and fully against the success of the Historical Enquiries Team to date and in developing evidence to the point of prosecution and the need to keep confidence of families, victims and the wider community."

The DUP's Ian Paisley jnr said Mr Attwood had been at a Policing Board meeting which gave unanimous support for the move.

"Less than one week ago he accepted it at a meeting of the Board with very little expression of concern. His decision to express these concerns has come after the event," he said.

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