British Nazi-hunter unit reformed
A disbanded police unit specialising in war crimes has been reformed to look into the backgrounds of British residents suspected of committing atrocities in World War II.
Eight officers from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch have been seconded to the War Crimes Unit to focus on former members of the 14th Waffen SS Galizien division that operated in eastern Europe, The Guardian said today.
Some of those who served with the Galizien division, which was active in Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, were brought as prisoners of war to areas of eastern and northern England after the war to provide farm labour.
A Scotland Yard spokesman was quoted as saying that officers were scouring old war crime files and "liaising with other government departments, including the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to establish the best way forward".
Andrew Dismore, a Labour MP who has been pushing for action against surviving war criminals, told the paper the Metropolitan Police needed more funding for the investigation.
"Making sure old war criminals can never sleep easy in their beds sends an important message to the would-be war criminals of tomorrow," he said.
But David Cesarini, the main researcher for the War Crimes Act, which was introduced 15 years ago, expressed reservations about the renewed inquiry.
He told the newspaper the initiative had come "10 years too late" because both survivors and suspects were too old, reducing the chances of any successful prosecution.
"The Home Office should be asking whether this is going to do more harm than good, and whether embarking on a judicial process, which will take years to come to fruition, is the best way to proceed," he said.
"Regretfully, it may be that an inquiry by government historians will now be the best way to investigate what these people did, how they came to be here and why they have not been prosecuted before."
The Scotland Yard unit was reported to have been reformed quietly last year, six years after it was disbanded following investigations costing an estimated 6.5 million pounds and resulting in just a single conviction.
Retired south London railway ticket inspector Anthony Sawoniuk was jailed for life in 1999 after being convicted on two specimen charges of murdering 18 Jews in his native Belarus. He died in prison last November aged 84.
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