Families of people killed by soldiers sue NI's chief constable

The HET is reviewing more than 150 killings  of soldiers The HET is reviewing more than 150 killings by soldiers between 1970 and September 1973 while on duty in Northern Ireland

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The families of 20 people killed by soldiers during the Troubles are suing Northern Ireland's chief constable.

It follows a report which said the team set up to re-examine deaths during the Troubles had failed to investigate killings by soldiers properly.

Solicitors for the families said the failure to do so had broken European human rights legislation.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it had not received notification of any legal proceedings.

'Devastated'

Last month the leading oversight body for UK police - Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary - said the Historical Enquiries Team's approach to killings by soldiers had been untenable and illegal.

Investigations by the HET into the circumstances of deaths caused by the military were immediately suspended.

The families of 20 of the 300 people killed by soldiers during the Troubles are now taking legal action against Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who has overall responsible for the work of the HET.

They include the family of Maura Meehan, a 30-year-old member of the IRA, who was shot dead with her sister Dorothy Maguire, also a member of the IRA.

Both were unarmed when soldiers opened fire on a car on the Falls Road on 21 October 1971.

Maura Meehan was a mother-of-four and her daughter, Margaret Kennedy, asked the HET to investigate.

Margaret Kennedy Margaret Kennedy said the HET "built our hopes up and then knocked us back"

Two-and-half-years ago she was told the review was completed, but has still not received details of the findings.

Last month, she attended a meeting in Belfast when the HMIC revealed its verdict on how the HET dealt with army cases.

"I was absolutely devastated, I just wanted to cry," said Margaret Kennedy.

"It just sort of put a stamp on our feelings. We knew they were not investigating army killings properly. It's heart breaking that they have put the families through this and now we have to go through it all again.

"I gave them the benefit of the doubt and worked with them to see what would come of it, to see if maybe we would get closure on my mother's death. But they just basically knocked us way back, they built our hopes up and then knocked us back.

"We're taking this action because of the emotional trauma that they have put families through. It is just not fair, we are entitled to justice and to know the truth about what happened."

A campaign group working with relatives of people killed by soldiers has said it believes more may join the legal action.

Mark Thompson, director of Relatives for Justice, said the case was being taken because the HMIC report had stated that the way the HET investigated Army killings was a breach of the British government's obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that the relatives of people killed by the state are entitled to a fully independent investigation.

"The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and government went to Europe and promised the committee of ministers that they would put in place a compliant investigative process that was independent to deal with British Army killings and what they have actually done, post the HMIC report we have seen, is that they lied," he said.

"They engaged in a very cynical exercise of emotionally bringing families into a process which they knew the outcome of, and which was deemed to be illegal."

'Basic obligations'

The solicitor representing the 20 families taking legal said the aim was to make the chief constable accountable for the HET's failings and to seek financial compensation.

Matt Baggott Police said Mr Baggott was taking the concerns raised in the HMIC report very seriously

"The HET was put centre stage by the UK government as its response to serious criticisms by the European Court of Human Rights, but has failed to meet the most basic of obligations," he explained.

"That in turn leaves families with little choice but to seek redress through the courts in search of accountability and force the changes that are long overdue."

In a statement, the PSNI said it has not received notification of any legal proceedings.

It pointed out that Mr Baggott has already stated that the HMIC report raised significant concerns, which he is taking very seriously.

The statement also pointed out that cases involving deaths caused by soldiers will be re-examined in line with the national murder investigation manual for any evidential opportunities.

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