The Royal Military Police (RMP) were instructed to “take no action” despite data regarding alleged unlawful special forces killings in Afghanistan being deleted from a computer server, an inquiry has been told.
The probe heard, according to the RMP, the deletion of the server known as ITS1 at the special forces HQ in the UK was “irreversible” and a “direct disobeyance to our demands to preserve the data in its entirety”.
ITS1 contained data relevant to Operation Northmoor – a £10 million investigation set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions, including children’s, by special forces.
Counsel to the independent inquiry, Oliver Glasgow KC, told the probe at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday: “Whether this was… part of a conspiracy to cover up wrongdoing by UK special forces… will need to be examined and determined in due course.”
The probe will look at allegations that “numerous” killings were carried out, as well as the alleged cover-up of illegal activity and inadequate investigations by the RMP.
Mr Glasgow read an extract from the policy log of a senior investigating officer (SIO) at the RMP in December 2016 following the server data deletion, which said: “It appears that (the UK special forces headquarters) have deleted material from the preserved ITS1 server.
“The deletion process has been conducted in such a way that it is irreversible and impossible to determine what has been deleted.
“This is in direct disobeyance to our demands to preserve the data in its entirety.”
The hearing was told the SIO advised on January 20 2017 that the ITS1 server should be “recovered immediately” but the gold commander at the UK special forces headquarters “did not agree”.
A week later, the SIO emailed the gold commander to say he had been instructed to “take no action in respect of data recovery from ITS1″ and “take no action in respect of the deletion of data from the ITS1 server”.
Mr Glasgow said: “Accordingly, after nearly 15 months of negotiations to recover the entire data set from the UK special forces server, the SIO was instructed not to take any steps to secure what was promised and not to investigate why it was that (the UK special forces headquarters) had permitted data to be deleted.”
“Whether material was deleted, why it was deleted and what prevented this being independently investigated are matters that the inquiry will consider with care.
“Whether this was, as has been suggested in some quarters, part of a conspiracy to cover up wrongdoing by UK special forces and designed to prevent Operation Northmoor from uncovering the truth, or whether this was simply the result of a server migration error, will need to be examined and determined in due course.
“The answer or answers will depend entirely upon the evidence and it would be inappropriate to attempt to form any conclusion about what the evidence might show until it has been called.”
Mr Glasgow said the inquiry’s investigations have suggested that the data transfer was undertaken by contractors and they, “as part of the process to speed up the transfer, had run a programme that had the effect of permanently deleting already deleted data”.
In its own opening submissions, delivered by Paul Greaney KC, the RMP said it will not “shy away from any findings” that suggest “failings in its investigations”.
Mr Greaney added: “These were, RMP believes, properly and appropriately substantial investigations staffed by RMP personnel doing their utmost in difficult circumstances.”
Following counsel to the inquiry’s opening submissions, Brian Altman KC, representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the MoD has an “enduring commitment to the inquiry”.
He said: “The MoD acknowledges the extreme gravity of these allegations which are at the heart of this inquiry and is determined that the inquiry should follow the evidence and arrive at the truth.”
The inquiry continues.