Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Peer: End 'betrayal' of veterans probed over Troubles killings

The Government has been urged to stop the "betrayal" of Northern Ireland veterans facing investigation or prosecution over historical killings during the Troubles.

Tory former Home Office minister Lord Blencathra said he was "ashamed" at the treatment of former troops.

The Conservative peer made his criticism during a short debate in the House of Lords on the armed forces covenant, which sets out government help for service personnel and their families.

However, responding to his concerns, defence minister Lord Howe said steps were being taken by the Government to "ensure veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated".

Speaking in the debate, Lord Blencathra called for former soldiers to be treated with "fairness and respect".

He highlighted the case of a veteran who was being investigated over the shooting of an "armed terrorist" more than 40 years ago.

Lord Blencathra said: "He received a certificate of appreciation from the GOC (General Officer Commanding) Northern Ireland, but now that soldier has been questioned about committing possible murder about that attack, which happened in 1972.

"The soldier is aged 75 and is a Chelsea pensioner.

"What in the name of God has happened to decency, justice, fairness and common sense when we are interrogating Chelsea pensioners for doing their duty to this country?"

The peer then raised the cases of two former soldiers who are to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering an Official IRA commander in Northern Ireland.

Joe McCann, 24, was shot dead in disputed circumstances in Belfast on April 15 1972.

Soldier A, now 67, and Soldier C, 65, are surviving members of the Parachute Regiment patrol which fired on Mr McCann.

Lord Blencathra said: "Two former soldiers are being prosecuted for the alleged murder of the IRA killer and terrorist Joe McCann.

"The soldiers were investigated at the time and were rightly cleared.

"Will they get a fair trial? Well of course not.

"Three of the soldiers opened fire that day. Of the three of them has since died and two RUC officers who may have also have fired cannot be found.

"There's no forensics linking the shots to any particular soldier.

"So no one knows who actually fired the shots, but that doesn't matter to the Northern Ireland Prosecution Service.

"Of course the Northern Ireland Prosecution Service is headed up by Barra McGrory, the former lawyer of (Martin) McGuinness and Gerry Adams.

"You couldn't make this up if one thought about it."

Lord Blencathra said one of the former soldier's had said he felt "like he's being treated as a terrorist".

"But of course, he's totally wrong in that regard," said the peer.

"If he'd been an IRA terrorist he would have been granted immunity by Tony Blair in one of the grubbiest deals I think which has ever been done by a UK leader.

"So no wonder that soldier says he feels betrayed by the Government.

"All IRA killers granted immunity and over a thousand soldiers being investigated for possible crimes against them.

"He says 'I'd like a minister to stand up in Parliament and say something'.

"But I know my noble friend is not permitted to do that and it's not his department's responsibility.

"That's why I am making this little speech tonight because I am ashamed of what's been done to those brave men who have served us so well.

"The time has come to stop this betrayal of our soldiers and stop it now."

Responding, Lord Howe said: "I listened with great interest to Lord Blencathra on the Northern Ireland legacy issues and I can tell him ...that the Defence and Northern Ireland Secretaries are working to create a Stormont House Agreement Bill that will ensure veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph