The Attorney General of Northern Ireland in 1971 was aware of the “danger to morale inherent in prosecutions of soldiers or policemen” and was “doing all in his power” to protect the security forces against prosecution, according to a Londonderry-based human rights group.
The so-called “culture of immunity” is revealed in new documents that have come to light following the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report into the shooting of Billy McGreanery by a soldier in Derry in September 1971.
Earlier this year, the HET report revealed that the top RUC man in the city at the time of the shooting, Superintendent Frank Lagan, recommended a prosecution of the soldier who shot Mr McGreanery at the top of Westland Street.
The new documents record a meeting between a senior official linked to the British Army headquarters here and the Attorney General Sir Basil Kelly.
The documents record that Sir Basil felt that there was no call for a charge in the McGreanery case or that of a Belfast woman Sarah Worthington who was shot dead by a British soldier in her own home.
The paper goes on to say: “I have no doubt that the Attorney General is doing all within his power to protect the security forces against criminal proceedings in respect of actions on duty.”
It says the top legal official was worried about the possibility of private prosecutions if he remained inactive in every case.
The document, dated December 6, 1971, goes on: “I am however satisfied that there is no need to remind him of the danger to morale inherent in prosecutions of soldiers or policemen.”
The documents were uncovered by the the Pat Finucane Centre.
Yesterday centre spokesman Paul O'Connor said: “These documents show clearly that rather than have an impartial Attorney General, there was a culture of immunity for British soldiers created and sustained up to the highest legal office at the time — the office of the Attorney General.”