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Michael Fallon: No witch hunts into troop action in N Ireland and Afghanistan

Probes into alleged misconduct by British troops in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan will not be allowed to turn into "witch hunts", Sir Michael Fallon has insisted.

The Defence Secretary gave MPs the assurance following widespread concern about the investigations into events in Iraq, amid claims that probe had been abused by lawyers and had got out of control.

The Royal Military Police (RMP) is leading Operation Northmoor, looking into allegations in Afghanistan, while the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is reviewing killings linked to the Troubles.

Concerns have been raised that they could heap further pressure on serving troops and veterans following the controversial Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) investigation.

Sir Michael told the Commons Defence Sub-committee: "Northmoor is already under way, it is a much smaller investigation than Ihat and there are some very specific terms of reference to investigate criminal allegations in regard to the treatment of detainees from the point at which they are captured until they are released or they have been handed over to the Afghan judicial system.

"Ihat, of course is looking right across the field and that's what we don't want to see again. The Northmoor investigation is very specific."

On Northern Ireland, Sir Michael said the PSNI investigation was not something that ministers could control but the Stormont House agreement meant "we are now looking at how we can ensure that this process in Northern Ireland is not random, that it is properly proportionate - in other words that murders by terrorists are fully investigated if there are to be investigations into any deaths at the hands of our service personnel".

The Defence Secretary added: "I am not going to see Northmoor develop into a witch hunt. Obviously the investigation has to be done at arm's length from the ministry, we understand that. It's being done by the Royal Military Police and that's the correct way to do it.

"But I'm not going to let it descend into a witch hunt and I am certainly not going to let the Northern Ireland process descend into a witch hunt."

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