Northern Ireland

Matt Baggott under pressure over HET leadership

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Media captionMr Cox is currently on leave while his future employment is discussed

Pressure is mounting on the head of the Historical Enquiries Team to step down following a highly critical inspection report.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott is embroiled in a bitter row with the policing board about when Dave Cox will step down.

He had said Mr Cox would retire at the end of December, but board members want him to go at the end of this month.

Mr Cox is currently on leave while his future employment is discussed.

The HET director has been under fire since an inspection report criticised the organisation's leadership and said the way it investigated deaths caused by the army was illegal.

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.

The board asked the chief constable to review the HET's management arrangements and set up a special working group to deal with the issue.

In a private meeting on Thursday, Matt Baggott told members of the board that a new HET leadership team would be in place by 28 September.

But he said Dave Cox would remain in place until the end of December.

That sparked heated exchanges, with board members insisting that was not acceptable.

They said Dave Cox should leave once the new leadership team is in place.

Matt Baggott was said to have been angered by the nature of the exchanges and left board members waiting more than 10 minutes before attending the public session of the board.

When questioned about the future of the HET he said he was implementing the recommendations but was aware of "confidence issues".

"If necessary, all options are open, including suspending the HET if we can't agree the terms of reference, then we'll move on that," he said.

Image caption Protestors criticised the HET at the Policing Board's meeting

"But at the moment I'll fulfill the recommendations whilst we have discussions around its role, its purpose, its focus and what it should be.

Board members were not satisfied, with many saying Mr Baggott had taken too long to address criticisms published in the inspection report two months ago.

They are also angry that the HET has completed reports on a number of non-military killings despite being told not to do so.

Leadership crisis

Chairwoman Anne Connolly made the board's position clear at its public meeting in July.

"Our view is that all military case reviews by the HET are suspended," she said.

"The HET should continue the process of conducting all other reviews but it shouldn't finalise any cases until all the necessary reforms are completed."

Mr Baggott said he had not realised the board had said the HET should not complete any further investigation reports.

"That wasn't our interpretation of that statement," he said.

"I'll have a look at that again, I'm very open to that."

The policing board has now invited the chief constable to what it calls an urgent meeting next Thursday to discuss the leadership of the HET and the fact that it has continued to complete investigation reports.

It is rare to have consensus between members of the board, but on this issue they appear to be speaking with one voice.

Image caption Mr Baggott said he had not realised the board had said the HET should not complete any further investigation reports

A variety of sources have said they do not think Matt Baggott realises how serious the issue is and how damaging it could be to confidence in him.

Some have warned that what is currently a crisis about the leadership of the HET could become a crisis about the leadership of the PSNI if the issue is not resolved quickly.

PSNI sources insist that is not the case.

They said the chief constable is fully aware of the need to maintain confidence in the work of the HET and is totally committed to working with the board.

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