UK Politics

'New Tricks' style police unit could deal with historic allegations

Hugh Orde
Image caption Sir Hugh Orde said investigating historic allegations was complicated

A senior police officer has suggested a new body could be set up to investigate historic allegations of corruption and misconduct against the police.

Sir Hugh Orde said the unit could be modelled on the Historic Inquiries Team he set up in Northern Ireland in 2005 to look into unsolved murders.

He suggested retired officers could help staff the unit - echoing the idea of the BBC detective series New Tricks.

"You have to police the past to police the present", he told MPs.

Labour MP Keith Vaz said 200 serving officers were assigned to operations investigating past police practices.

Appearing at a hearing of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Sir Hugh, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers was asked if it was a "worry" so much operational resource was devoted to historic inquiries into police ethics and standards.

He said the police had an obligation to investigate historic allegations against them - such as those relating to the Hillsborough disaster - but these by their very nature were often very "complicated" and required manpower and resources.

"If this is going to be a continuing theme, do we seriously need to think about having a ring-fenced resource to deal with it," he said.

Sir Hugh, was chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) between 2002 and 2009, said British police forces could learn from the example of Northern Ireland - where the Historic Inquiries Team is examining all unresolved deaths between 1968 and 1998 which "can be attributed to the security situation" at the time.

The move, he suggested, had given victims' families "some certainty that their case would be got to and look at again properly and carefully with the benefit of hindsight and fresh technology."

"The experience I bring with me from Northern Ireland is that you have to police the past to police the present."

"If there are issues which are unresolved they have to be dealt with, faced up to and properly investigated so some resolution for the family members can be achieved and to some clarity as to what went on."


Sir Hugh said many of those who worked for the Historic Inquiries Team in Northern Ireland were retired police officers - who used to work for the Royal Ulster Constabulary - the predecessor to the PSNI.

Retired officers had made a valuable contribution but the families of victims had to be happy with their involvement, he argued.

"I drew detectives from across the country - many retired detectives. Many families were comfortable with cases being dealt with by retired RUC officers but others were not... the family were the driving force."

The idea that retired officers can solve "cold cases" has been popularised by the BBC TV drama New Tricks - where three former officers work as part of Metropolitan Police's fictional Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad.

Its website calls it a "drama series featuring an eccentric bunch of ex-policemen, brought out of retirement to investigate unsolved crimes".

The model of a specific team to look at historic cases, which he suggested would need "independent" funding to be credible, was one "we could consider"

Mr Vaz said there were multiple police inquiries taking place which "in part relate to police failures in the past" and he was concerned about the amount of resources being devoted to them.

"I have counted up that there are probably over 200 detectives involved in these various different investigations at the moment."

In response to Mr Orde's suggestion, Mr Vaz said it was "a very interesting model - we have not heard of it before."