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Met officers to bolster Ukraine war crimes investigation efforts

The UK is strengthening support for war crimes investigations in Ukraine. But a police leader who worked in Bosnia has cautioned against high expectations.

Extra offices are being assigned to investigations of atrocities carried out in Ukraine.

A Metropolitan Police officer has been assigned to the international Criminal Court in the Hague to coordinate access to specialist forensic and military expertise.

Two police officers with expertise in collection of intelligence through publicly available data sources will also be working on allegations. 

UK officers will also provide bespoke war crimes investigation training to Ukrainian police on behalf of the ICC, in collaboration with the Norwegian Police.

UK policing leaders had informally warned at the start of the Russian invasion that evidence would need to be secured quickly.

Scottish Police Federation Chair David Hamilton, who has been working with a refugee charity and visited Ukraine, told Police Oracle the investigation team will need to reference what happened in the Bosnian war.

"We called for a action so that evidence could be captured at an early stage. The reality is it will take years. The Bosnian investigation started early too but it took years to document and evaluate evidence."

He added: "There has to be a realistic expectation of what the International Criminal Court is going to do."

The announcement is part of a fresh package of support to the independent investigation announced in March, including the deployment of a specialist legal and police team. 

The War Crimes Team has national responsibility for carrying out any UK enquiries into war crimes and core international crimes. The team has extensive experience of investigating crimes such as genocide.

The Met is also continuing to collect witness statements from Ukrainian refugees who have resettled in the UK and has so far received information of 50 incidents.

It said: “We continue to appeal for anyone in the UK with direct evidence of possible war crimes in Ukraine to get in touch with our War Crimes Team.”

The announcement follows a meeting in the Hague of the ICC and its prosecutor who revealed plans to open an office in Kyiv – and a ramping up of the international effort.

Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia signed an agreement during the two-day meeting to join the Joint Investigation team that will share evidence of war crimes through EuroJust, the EU's judicial coordination agency.

EuroJust has had its regulations amended by the European Commission so it can collect, store, share and analyse on war crimes and counter cross-border crimes.

 A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Officers from Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Unit will continue to provide forensic and technical capabilities, such as biometrics and examination of digital devices, as evidence is gathered from potential witnesses in the UK.”

But the chances of the work leading to the prosecution of those who order attrocities to be carried out will be slim.

David Hamilton, who was an aid worker during the Bosnian war before  he became a police officer and contributed evidence to war crimes investigators said: "They had to concentrate on the lower people until the senior leaders were given up or caught.

"The International Criminal Court will deal with the big offences; then it will come down to the local courts to deal with specific offences like rape. The reaility of Bosnia is that there are still local people who commited horrific crimes who didn't face justice, still live in the area and even some who hold public office."

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