Northern Ireland

Confusion of future position of HET boss, Dave Cox

Dave Cox
Image caption HET director Dave Cox has been under pressure due to a damning report from a national police watchdog

There is confusion over the future of the head of the Historical Enquiries Team after policing board members were told he would step down this month.

Pressure had been mounting on Dave Cox following a damning inspection report which criticised the way the HET investigated military killings.

On Friday, board members received an email informing them that Mr Cox would leave his post at the end of September.

But on Saturday night, PSNI sources insisted that is not the case.

Bitter row

The email, addressed to policing board members, stated: "The director of policy has asked me to inform you that the Chief Constable has confirmed this afternoon that both Dave Cox and Paul Johnston will leave their posts in the HET at the end of this month.

"The new leadership team, referred to at (Thursday's) board meeting, take over on 28th September 2013."

Mr Johnston is the HET's director of the military operations.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott had previously said Mr Cox would retire at the end of December, but policing board members had wanted him to leave at the end of this month.

Disagreement over his departure date sparked a bitter row between Mr Baggott and board members on Thursday.

There were heated exchanges at a private meeting between the PSNI leadership and the board, as members made it clear they would not accept Mr Baggott's decision to allow Mr Cox to remain in post until the end of the year.

Under fire

Policing board sources said Mr Baggott would face a major showdown and his position as Chief Constable could be damaged unless he changed his mind.

Later on Thursday, Mr Baggott arrived several minutes late for a public session of the policing board.

The email regarding Mr Cox and Mr Johnston's departure date was sent to board members on Friday afternoon.

The position outlined in the email signalled a significant u-turn by the Chief Constable.

But on Saturday night, PSNI sources insisted no final decision about Mr Cox's departure will be made until he returns from holiday next week.

The board has convened a special meeting to discuss the issue with the Chief Constable on Thursday.

The HET is a specialist police team, set up in 2005 to re-examine 3,260 deaths during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Serious shortcomings

Mr Cox has been under fire since an inspection report by a national police watchdog criticised the organisation's leadership and said the way it investigated deaths caused by the Army was illegal.

The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report, published in July, concluded that the HET investigated deaths where the state was involved with "less rigour" than other cases.

The HMIC said the HET's policy was based on a "misrepresentation of the law" and added the team's approach was inconsistent and had serious shortcomings.

Following the criticisms, HET investigations of military killings were suspended and the policing board declared that it had no confidence in the leadership of the team.

It is understood both Mr Cox and Mr Johnston found out about the email from the media on Saturday.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the PSNI said: "These matters are subject to ongoing confidential discussions with the NI Policing Board."

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