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Calls by 150 ex-soldiers to probe Troubles attacks on them could 'bring PSNI to a standstill'

By Deborah McAleese

Up to 150 ex-soldiers are to ask the PSNI to investigate IRA gun and bomb attacks on them during the Troubles, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

One of the former soldiers has warned that the planned mass action by Army veterans who served in the province "could bring the PSNI to a standstill".

But he insisted it was only fair that any investigation by the Northern Ireland authorities into legacy cases should also include attacks on the military.

The former soldier revealed that he plans to ask the PSNI to probe 16 murder bids on him while serving in the province during the early 1990s.

Amongst the attacks he wants probed are the 1991 PIRA bombing of Musgrave Park Hospital, which killed two soldiers, and the Downing Street mortar attack that same year.

"I will be making statements about 16 attempted murders. I am one of a large number coming forward. It could bring the PSNI to a standstill but why should attacks on Army veterans not be investigated as well?" he asked.

He is just one of up to 150 former soldiers expected to forward complaints to the PSNI over the next few months.

Another former soldier, Mike Harmson, told the Belfast Telegraph last week that he recently reported a series of IRA attacks on him during the 1980s to the PSNI.

He said the revelations have now opened the floodgates for other former soldiers to come forward.

"Since the weekend I've had more than 20 Army veterans joining up to make complaints to the PSNI about attempted murders. Another veteran I spoke to at the weekend said that 18 of his former colleagues have come forward and they are also seeking out others. It is snowballing," Mr Harmson said.

He added: "Some I have spoken to have complained about not getting advice from the PSNI on how to proceed so I am trying to help with that."

It is understood that hundreds of allegations of PIRA attacks are currently being processed by a lobby group for veterans to be handed over to detectives.

A spokesman for the Veterans Lobbying Group told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have been inundated. We anticipate we will have complaints from between 100 and 150 veterans. Possibly plus that. We have a team of admins working to process all the allegations and make sure everybody is aware of their rights.

"We are doing this to even out the playing field. It is about getting ourselves heard. We are seeing pictures of the Chief Constable sitting with Martin McGuinness giving a press conference and he has never once asked about the veterans. We have been forgotten about."

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig warned that the action "is going to be a fundamental headache" for the PSNI and the authorities, but said that he welcomed it.

The DUP MLA added: "It's not before time. I think the soldiers are absolutely right to come forward. Let's have a full investigation into those who attempted to murder them and see what it turns up. It is going to be a fundamental headache for everyone but there is money set aside for the Historical Investigations Unit so let's see this move forward."

The development is likely to cause concern for the PSNI which is already struggling to deal with legacy cases. On Monday Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned that agreement on how best to deal with the legacy of the Troubles is "vital".

"We cannot go on as we are. The status quo is not delivering the right outcome for victims and survivors," Ms Villiers said.

She added: "I believe the best hope of making progress is to implement the Stormont House Agreement and get those new investigatory bodies set up."

Last week the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) also demanded that any examination of legacy issues "involve the hundreds of officers murdered and the thousands who were maimed in terrorist attacks."

PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay said: "I'm the first to acknowledge there are real difficulties here. However, in the debate so far, there has been little attention paid to the sacrifice made by ordinary men and women who worked tirelessly to protect the wider community."

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