Up to 1,000 murder files held by the Crown police in the North of Ireland have simply “gone missing”, the PSNI have admitted.
The revelations over missing files follow a series of similar damaging admissions relating to the PSNI (previously RUC) having failed to retain important evidence in murder cases.
Those included former RUC detective Eric Anderson’s admission that he had held onto murder files after retirement; the admission that police destroyed the jumper of unionist paramilitary murder victim Gavin McShane after it was judged to be a ‘health hazard’.
Other admissions included the fact that police destroyed the car used in the UVF gun attack on Loughinisland, County Down which left six people dead and that evidence relating to the SAS shooting of three IRA men in Co Tyrone in 1991 was destroyed after it was claimed to have been contaminated by asbestos.
Relatives for Justice director Mark Thompson said the disclosure raised serious questions about the ability of the new Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to properly investigate old killings.
“That so many murder files are ‘missing’ only confirms the view that the practice of destroying and concealing evidence was systematic,” he said.
“That RUC officers took files home is an incredible omission of alarming proportions, aside from being technically illegal.
“Crucially, exactly what files are ‘missing’? Do they relate to collusion killings and shoot-to-kill?”
Pointing to revelations in the past that evidence was destroyed after controversial murders, Mr Thompson added: “We already know that key forensic evidence was routinely concealed and/or destroyed but not on such a scale.
“Families are yet again dealt another blow. We need to see accountability and call on Peter Hain to initiate an immediate inquiry into this scandal.”
Mr Thompson also pointed out that the HET is within a structure that is politically controlled and recent history which showed the British government would go to”extraordinary lengths to protect agents involved in killings and collusion with unionist death squads.
“MI5, a key protagonist in the conflict, will next year assume responsibility for intelligence matters in the north,” he added.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said the revelation will come as no surprise to nationalists “who are all too aware of the culture of concealment and cover-up which exists at the heart of the Special Branch.
“Thousands of missing files is not the work of rogue individuals it is the outworking of a systematic and planned effort to cover-up and conceal the involvement of British state agencies, including the Special Branch, in the murder of citizens.”