Northern Ireland

Politicians Demand Prime Minister To End Forces Veterans 'Witch Hunt'

Politicians and four former Chiefs of Defence Staff have all backed the campaign.

One hundred and six Conservative MPs and more than 50 peers have written to the Prime Minister, asking her to drop plans to investigate military veterans who served during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Tory MPs, led by a group of backbenchers, who are all ex-servicemen, have today submitted a letter to the Prime Minister to Number 10 Downing Street, demanding an end to what they call "the legal witch hunts" of ex-servicemen and ex-security service personnel who served their country.

The letter, which is also backed by four former Chiefs of Defence Staff, a former First Sea Lord and a former General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, says a new Historical Investigations Unit would put "service and security personnel at an exceptional disadvantage".

It also says the current "situation simply cannot be allowed to continue as it is" and ends by stating "it is our duty to stand up for and defend those who defended us in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan".

'There's no new evidence available'

Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who has signed the letter, told Forces News: "Nobody can be exactly clear of the circumstances sometimes of what happened 30 or 40 years ago.

"These things have already been investigated and we think it's wrong to keep reopening these cases and therefore cause all this additional worry.

"These are cases that have already been investigated - there's no new evidence available, they've been investigated once.

"The soldiers concerned have been told that the investigation is over, they've nothing to fear and now suddenly they get a knock on the door, they can be arrested, flown to Belfast and charged.

"That's quite wrong."

'Politicians' letter is alarming and surprising'

Mark Thompson's brother was shot dead in 1990 and runs the campaigning group Relatives for Justice. He told Forces News that the letter gives the message that "the rule of law doesn't apply": "For Parliamentarians to engage such an exercise is pretty depressing.

"It's not only that they're defending soldiers that were involved in fatalities that might be asked questions in an independent process for the very first time, but they're ignoring many of the soldier's families in Britain that were killed in the north of Ireland during the conflict."

One of those who has signed the letter is Richard Benyon MP, a former Minister who served as a platoon commander in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, who said: "Our colleagues are simply no longer prepared to tolerate the legal hounding of those who served their country by those who are seeking to exploit them for financial and or political gain.

"We are calling on the government to halt this process and to come up with a solution as soon as possible."

Lord Dannatt recently condemned new investigations into decades-old military activities in Northern Ireland as a "witch hunt"

Lord Dannatt, former Chief of General Staff and a platoon commander in Northern Ireland in 1971 who last month described new investigations into decades-old military activities in Northern Ireland as a "witch hunt", said: "The present system of historic and current investigations is demonstrably not balanced, fair, equitable and crucially is not proportionate.

"The welfare and duty of care towards servicemen and military veterans should be clearly championed by the Secretary of State for Defence and not left to the outcome of a Consultation by the NI Secretary.

"The British Government must stand up for its security forces."

Defending those who defended us - Letter from MPs to PM on Northern Ireland 231018Defending those who defended us - Letter from MPs to PM on Northern Ireland 231018

Earlier, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

"I don’t want to see elderly veterans having to face repeated investigations decades after the events in question.

"The Northern Ireland Office recently closed a consultation on legacy cases like this and will report soon.

“The Ministry of Defence has put in place a comprehensive package of support, including legal representation to any individual accused of an offence arising from their service on operations.

In July, 30 Tory MPs called for a 20-year time limit on reopening cases involving former military personnel.

And, earlier this month, a cross-party group of Westminster politicians, including four former Northern Ireland secretaries, urged Karen Bradley to draw a line under the region's past.

Yesterday, Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster told the House of Commons on the subject of the Historical Enquiries Team:

"There are frankly few issues in my 14 years in parliament which I have found the House unify over to such an extent."

Earlier this year, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson set up a team to look at proposals to protect veterans from prosecution for historic allegations.

It was after Mr Williamson stated he was "prepared to go to any lengths" to prevent what he described as a "vendetta against former service personnel" who served during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.