Anonymous British soldier

Government Accused Of 'Rancid Backstairs Deal' Over Historical Investigations

It is after legislation was proposed to prevent the prosecution of some personnel, but that would not apply to Northern Ireland.

Anonymous British soldier

(Picture: Crown Copyright).

MPs have hit out at the Government following reports that plans to protect armed forces veterans from prosecution will not apply to Northern Ireland.

The Government faced accusations of making a "rancid backstairs deal" with Sinn Fein, as MPs lined up to call for better protection for ex-servicemen and women from "vexatious attacks" and being pursued through the courts.

Mark Francois dubbed proposals to re-investigate every fatality during the Troubles from the late 1960s onwards as "IHAT mark two", after the controversial Iraq Historic Allegations Team investigation, which was shut down over fraudulent claims of criminality by soldiers.

The Defence Secretary on Wednesday said she feared the Government was in danger of repeating the mistakes of IHAT with veterans of the Troubles, and that she believes additional protection for military personnel "should cover Northern Ireland".

Ms Mordaunt has signalled she intends to create a "statutory presumption" against prosecution of current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty abroad more than 10 years ago.

The Ministry of Defence, however, says that would not apply to Northern Ireland or in cases where there is compelling evidence.

Penny Mordaunt: law protecting personnel from prosecution 'should cover Northern Ireland'

Granted an Urgent Question in the Commons, Mark Francois said the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive "cannot be at the price of some rancid backstairs deal between the Northern Ireland Office and Sinn Fein IRA".

Mr Francois said MPs have a "duty to defend those who defended us" in Northern Ireland, and Parliament should "not allow the scapegoating of our veterans to pander to terrorists".

Attacking the plans to set up a commission going back over every fatality in Northern Ireland since 1968/69, he said due to so-called "letters of comfort" given to suspected IRA killers, armed service personnel will be investigated, but "the alleged terrorists will not".

"So this entire process would be utterly one-sided because service personnel and members of the RUC GC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) would be liable for prosecution, those with letters of comfort are scot-free," he added.

In response, Northern Ireland minister John Penrose said "we will have no rancid political deals under my watch", calling the idea of one "not acceptable".

He also said that the "letters of comfort" are not "an amnesty from prosecution" and in the future will not be "a body amour against prosecution" for suspected terrorists.

Burned out houses in Conway Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles
There are plans for a commission to examine every fatality in Northern Ireland since 1968 (Picture: PA).

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who served in Northern Ireland, said: "I don't know how I can honestly, with a clean heart, say that my Government represents the best interests of ex-servicemen and women who have served their country."

Mr Duncan Smith added: "When natural justice collides with the law, we change the law."

Mr Penrose responded, saying the Government is talking about bringing forward a Bill in order to change the law to "put this right".

Northern Ireland veteran, MP Bob Stewart said he was investigated, and that "investigations were thorough, aggressive, and bloody awful to go through".

Mr Stewart said soldiers who had been to court and been proved innocent should not be asked to go through the process again.

Mr Penrose denied that any commission to re-investigate British soldiers had been "demanded as a price in the talks" by Sinn Fein on bringing back the Stormont assembly.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Tony Lloyd said soldiers should be protected from "vexatious attacks", but said no-one should be immune if they "wilfully" broke the law.