Belfast Telegraph

British Legion distances itself from Army veterans' legal campaign

By Rebecca Black

A former UUP election candidate has criticised the Royal British Legion (RBL) for asking its members to avoid linking the association to events organised by Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans.

Robert Foster, who ran for the party in North Belfast said the request, made in a letter from the RBL's Northern Ireland district chairman, was "disgraceful" and accused the group of "not supporting our veterans".

The RBL letter stressed that while members were free to attend such events, they should avoid linking them to the RBL because they had become "highly politicised".

It read: "This issue has become highly politicised, and as a strictly non-partisan organisation, we would like to remind Legion members that under no circumstances should they participate in these parades/protests as representatives of the Legion, or provide or indicate Legion support for them in any way."

It also notes with apparent alarm that a number of such events started outside RBL premises.

But a spokesman for the RBL defended the request, insisting the instruction was issued because the Legion wished to remain neutral.

They explained: "The Royal British Legion is a strictly non-partisan organisation and as such it has advised its members that should they wish to take part in these parades, they should do so in their personal capacity and not as a representative of the Legion."

The spokesman also asked that no RBL imagery, symbols or venues be used in support of "any politicised parades".

The row comes after more than 1,000 former military personnel in January took part in a Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans protest at Westminster in central London.

Two Northern Ireland MPs, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson and the Ulster Unionist Party's Danny Kinahan, were among those who attended.

Dennis Hutchings (75), who has been charged with attempted grievous bodily harm with intent in relation to the fatal shooting of a man with learning difficulties near the village of Benburb in 1974, also addressed the protest.

The veterans handed in a letter handed in to Downing Street, pleading with Prime Minister Theresa May to introduce a statute of limitations in cases involving controversial Troubles-era killings.

A number of marches have been held in Northern Ireland in protest against what some see as "vindictive" criminal investigations involving former members of the Armed Forces.

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