Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions (DPP) has strongly rejected claims decisions to charge former soldiers over Troubles incidents have been politically motivated.

Barra McGrory QC said those levelling the allegations "should know better" and said they not only insulted him but also all the lawyers who worked for the region's Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Criticism of Mr McGrory has been aired at Westminster and in some national newspapers amid allegations a "witch hunt" is being pursued against ex-military personnel.

"Mystified" at the criticism, and hitting out at those questioning the impartiality of his office, Mr McGrory said:

"If they are not trying to influence me, they are certainly being personally insulting and they are questioning my integrity... it is (also) insulting to this office and to the lawyers who work here and do their work... with absolute integrity".

Mr McGrory pointed out there have been only three prosecutorial decisions involving former soldiers in recent times - two that resulted in prosecutions and one in no prosecution.

He said that this happened in the context of around 40,000 files passed to the PPS each year:

"In the overall context of what we do these are a tiny number of cases".

However, the DPP did acknowledge there have been prosecutions in relation to historic paramilitary killings other than those only involving the security forces.

Former Conservative minister Sir Gerald Howarth recently used parliamentary privilege to accuse Mr McGrory of "supporting" Sinn Fein.

Prior to becoming DPP, Mr McGrory was a noted defence lawyer who counted Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams among his clients.

He also represented other high-profile figures across the community in Northern Ireland.

In a number of cases, Mr McGrory has recused himself from prosecution decisions that could be perceived as being linked to his former clients.

The DPP said anyone who understood the legal profession would know lawyers represent anyone who seeks their representation.

He pointed out he had also represented loyalist paramilitaries and members of both the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists:

"I have represented a broad cross-section of people, so who I have represented in the past really has nothing to do with it".

In December, it was announced two former soldiers are to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering Official IRA commander Joe McCann in Northern Ireland.

The McCann case is thought to be the second military prosecution involving Northern Ireland since the 1990s.

Another former soldier, Dennis Hutchings, who is in his 70s and from Cornwall, has been charged with attempted murder in 2015 in connection with the shooting of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties, in Co Tyrone in 1974.

In 1999, Paratrooper Lee Clegg was cleared of the murder of a Belfast teenager.

Files on the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings by soldiers in Londonderry are currently being considered by prosecutors.

Cover image: British troops investigate a couple on the street in Belfast (image: GeorgeLouis)

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