Police to investigate 3,000 deaths from the Troubles

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The Independent Online

Police in Northern Ireland are to reopen investigations into the more than 3,000 deaths of the Troubles.

Although the move is a police operation, its main aim is said to be helping bereaved families achieve "a measure of resolution". Described by Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde as "a massive challenge", the task is being handled by a new unit with a £30m budget.

Officially it will have a timescale of six years, but there is speculation that the exercise could take longer.

The plan is to re-examine deaths since 1969, contacting officers who ran murder inquiries and trawling through any intelligence held by Special Branch and Military Intelligence. These and other agencies are said to have promised their full co-operation.

In many cases, DNA and other scientific techniques not available in the 1960s and 1970s will be brought to bear on cases which were never solved.

Prosecutions may eventually result, but anyone convicted of murder is expected to serve a maximum of two years in prison. The work will be carried out by a new unit called the Historical Enquiries Team, led by a former Metropolitan Police commander, Dave Cox. It will include serving and former officers from Northern Ireland and police forces in Britain.

Bereaved families have made differing demands, ranging from fresh prosecutions to simple requests for more information about the circumstances of the death of a relative. Mr Cox said the unit would be "looking at cases again with a modern professional policing eye. We're going to give this a real shot."

He added: "The team is about offering families a thorough and independent reappraisal of unsolved cases. It's about the families and it's about what they want." Families would be given the maximum amount of information on killings, he said.

Sinn Fein is critical of the initiative and a spokesman accused the police of "the cover-up and concealment of state murder". But the party stopped short of sayingsupporters should boycott the unit.

The move was welcomed by Irwin Montgomery, chair of the Policing Federation, as "an opportunity to "get the facts right".

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