PSNI boss questions claims on scale of Troubles collusion killings
Northern Ireland's top police officer has questioned a claim that there were "hundreds and hundreds" of deaths as a result of security force collusion.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was "surprised" at the claim by former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan.
She said some paramilitary informants recruited by the security forces during the Troubles were "serial killers".
Mr Hamilton questioned her assessment of the "scale" of killings and said informers saved "thousands of lives".
However, the PSNI Chief Constable added that during the Troubles, there were "no rules" governing how security force handlers dealt with paramilitary agents.
Baroness O'Loan's remarks are to be broadcast on Thursday night, as part of a BBC Panorama programme examining the extent of security force collusion with paramilitary agents during decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
She told Panorama that the police and Army allowed informers to commit crime, up to and including murder, with "impunity".
"They were running informants and they were using them. Their argument was that by so doing they were saving lives, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people were not brought to justice and weren't stopped in their tracks," she said.
Baroness O'Loan added: "Many of them were killers and some of them were serial killers."
However, the PSNI Chief Constable took issue with her remarks.
Speaking on the BBC's Nolan Show, Mr Hamilton said: "My understanding is that there were hundreds if not thousands of lives saved through the work of informants and police and, in those days, Army working with those informants. I'm not saying that everything that was done was done to the standards of today."
Referring to Baroness O'Loan's claim that the security forces operated outside the rules, the Chief Constable said: "I would challenge that, it's not actually accurate. There were no rules."
He added: "There was no regulatory framework for handling of informants at that time. That's not an excuse by the way, it's just simple a statement of fact."
However, he said that there was "no hiding place" for anyone who operated outside the law.
He said it was the PSNI's job to investigate crime "no matter how long ago", and added it was the Police Ombudsman's responsibility to investigate allegations that members of the security forces broke the law.
Mr Hamilton said that since the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPA) Act 2000, the conduct of covert operations by UK security forces is heavily regulated and scrutinised.