Belfast Telegraph

General 'proud' of soldiers' conduct in Northern Ireland

Former Army chief hits out at 'witch-hunt' prosecutions

By Allan Preston

A former head of the Army has said he is certain all soldiers were properly investigated for their conduct during the Troubles.

General Lord Richard Dannatt added that he was sick of a "witch-hunt" to prosecute ageing troops.

A number of veterans who were based here during the Troubles have received letters asking for statements about fatal shootings ahead of new inquests.

Lord Dannatt said it was "thoroughly unreasonable" to expect soldiers to be able to recall events from decades ago.

"I was a platoon commander aged 20, 46 years ago, and we were involved in a number of incidents in a very intense set of circumstances but everything was investigated properly according to the rules and legislation at the time," he told the BBC's Sunday Morning Live programme.

He also maintained he was proud of the way the Army had conducted itself in Northern Ireland and "all the campaigns that we have been involved in and I have been involved in over an extraordinary period of time".

Lord Dannatt argued the Ministry of Defence had only agreed to reinvestigate some soldiers, as has also been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, due to fear of the European Court of Human Rights and European legislation.

Last year two former soldiers were told they were to be prosecuted for the 1972 murder of official IRA commander Joe McCann. A third case involves the retired soldier Dennis Hutchings. The 75-year-old is accused of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to a fatal shooting in 1974.

Mark Thompson from campaign group Relatives for Justice told the programme that the rule of law had to apply to all.

"Unfortunately there's a dual process of soldiers who don't want to answer questions and there's a campaign by the UK government to ... provide a smothering blanket to stop the truth being told," he said.

Former soldier Alan Barry, from Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV), dismissed this as "total rubbish".

"A case I have here is relating to a 74-year-old veteran who was involved in an incident in the 1970s. He was questioned at the time of the incident as were all the people on that patrol," he said.

"He was re-questioned again about 20 years after the incident and then yet again he was arrested about three years ago, questioned again and on this occasion he was held in detention for three days and questioned 26 times."

Mr Thompson responded saying the original investigations with soldiers could not be considered impartial as the soldiers were questioned by their colleagues and as witnesses rather than suspects.

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