To support military justice teams’ response to ongoing independent probe, Ministry of Defence directly awards contract to install accredited system for supporting authorities in conducing complex investigations of major crimes
The military unit charged with investigating the most serious crimes committed by service personnel has signed a six-figure deal to install incident response software to support “urgent investigations” at Secret-classified level.
This is set to include supporting the military justice system’s response to an ongoing independent statutory inquiry which was recently told of special forces personnel killing Afghan civilians in a “campaign of murder” that was then covered up by military and government officials.
The Ministry of Defence this week awarded a £450,000 contract to Unisys for the provision of the IT firm’s HOLMES 2 application. The software is widely used by law-enforcement agencies to help coordinate the investigation of serious crime or response to major incidents and, according to a newly published commercial notice from the MoD, is “the only system accredited by the National Police Chiefs Council for the purpose of setting up major incident rooms”.
Because of this singular accreditation, the ministry did not undertake a competitive procurement process before signing the deal with Unisys.
The notice reveals that the tech supplier has been retained to support the work of the Defence Serious Crime Command – the strategic leadership body for the Defence Serious Crime Unit, an investigative team composed of serving personnel from the three Armed Forces, alongside civil servants and contractors.
The remit of the DSCC and DSCU concerns investigation of “the most serious and complex crimes alleged to have been committed by persons subject to service law in both the UK and overseas, including sexual offences, domestic abuse and offences of violence”, according to GOV.UK.
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To support investigations in the coming weeks and months, HOLMES 2 will be installed in the Secret-classified section of the ModNet private cloud infrastructure used by the MoD and the military.
“The DSCC have an urgent operational requirement to bring the application into service within the ModNet (Secret) Cloud by 4 December 2023 in order to conduct urgent investigations at SUKEO (Secret UK Eyes Only level) and respond to allegations identified from the Independent Inquiry into deliberate detention operations in Afghanistan,” the notice said.
The inquiry in question is a statutory process announced by the Home Office late last year with the remit to “investigate and report on alleged unlawful activity by UK special forces… in Afghanistan in the period mid-2010 to mid-2013, and the adequacy of subsequent investigations into such allegations”.
The inquiry recently began taking evidence and, in his opening statement on behalf of bereaved Afghan families, Richard Hermer KC said: “I will seek to highlight evidence capable of suggesting that members of the SAS were applying a practice of unlawfully killing Afghan civilians; in other words, so we are absolutely clear, evidence that they were conducting a campaign of murder, not only obviously a crime in domestic law, but a war crime amounting to grave breaches of the Geneva Convention.”
“What is more, I will seek to highlight that there is evidence capable of demonstrating that this practice, or at least suspicion that this practice was taking place, was known to senior officers within the SAS and to senior personnel within the Ministry of Defence, who not simply did nothing about it – of course itself unlawful – but in some circumstances actively sought to prevent adequate investigation of murder.”
The Unisys software will be used to established a virtual major incident room (MIR) in which investigators can work on “gathering and processing evidence which is SUKEO”.
Secret is the middle of the three tiers of government security classification – sitting between Official and Top Secret. It is the designation applied to “very sensitive information that requires enhanced protective controls… [and where] a compromise could threaten life [of] an individual or group, seriously damage the UK’s security and/or international relations, its financial security/stability, or impede its ability to investigate serious and organised crime”.
The notice adds the military investigators require the HOLMES 2 system to ensure their work is conducted to the same standards of rigour as a civilian police force.
“The MIR is the repository for all material gathered from the public, enquiry officers and other source,” the procurement notice said. “It is managed using standardised administrative procedures and supports the senior investigating officer to direct and control the investigation. As such, the service justice system is held up against the same levels of scrutiny as other Home Office police forces and hence the required application must enable the Service Prosecuting Authority and Military Court Service to obtain the same performance data as the Crown Prosecution Service and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service in order to be compliant with Home Office and College of Policing Standards.”