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Ex-NI soldier recalls questioning over republican's murder as calls grow for veteran protection from prosecutions

Pursuit of ex-soldiers over Troubles offences 'a denial of natural justice'

By Jonny Bell

A former Northern Ireland Troubles soldier has recalled the day he was treated as a suspect in the murder of a leading republican in Northern Ireland.

It comes as a Westminster committee recommended British soldiers who served in the province should be protected from future prosecutions by a statute of limitations.

Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, writing in the Daily Mail, described how he had personal experience of the cloud of suspicion hanging over him.

"I should stress that what I went through is not on the same level as that endured by so many of our brave young men and women, but it at least gives me an idea of what they have experienced," he said.

He recalls how in 2000 he was contacted by police who wanted to question him over the killing of a leading republican in the late 80s in Northern Ireland while he was a captain in the Army.

Charges were never brought and the case eventually dropped said Mr Kemp who described the experience as "deeply shocking".

"Above all, there is a huge worry it will affect your career, your marriage - your entire life.

"So I can only imagine the sheer hell endured by the 1,500 soldiers who have been charged — and, in some cases, all but destroyed."

He added: "I was in my late 30s and a lieutenant-colonel commanding a battalion of around 800 men. Despite my seniority and military experience, I was shocked. I knew I was innocent, but there’s always a fear people will think there is no smoke without fire," he wrote.

The Westminster defence Committee proposal comes after a number of former security forces members were recently charged with offences related to the 30-year conflict. Along with a statute of limitations the committee has called for a truth recovery mechanism to help bereaved families.

The report stated: "It is clear from the experience of these legacy investigations that, unless a decision is taken to draw a line under all Troubles-related cases, without exception, they will continue to grind on for many years to come, up to half-a-century after the incidents concerned."

The committee said it had received evidence from legal experts that a limitation for only security force members could leave the UK open to challenge that it was legislating for "state impunity".

However, the committee did not recommend that the statute should cover all Troubles incidents. It said the next Government should examine the legal issues raised.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said: "The last 20 years have been marred by the completely imbalanced treatment of those who terrorised our society; and those brave service personnel who ensured they would never succeed.

"Early release of prisoners, a maximum two-year sentence for fresh terrorist convictions, odious on-the-runs legislation and a secretive scheme to issue letters of immunity have all tarnished the balance of justice."

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, however, said everyone must be equal before the law and there can be no immunity.

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