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Peer slams 'betrayal' of servicemen probed over Troubles deaths

By Nick Lester

Published 13/01/2017

Criticism: Lord Blencathra
Criticism: Lord Blencathra

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

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

The Conservative peer made his criticism during a debate in the House of Lords on the Armed Forces Covenant, which sets out Government help for service personnel and their families.

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

Lord Blencathra said: "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 also raised the cases of two former soldiers who are to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering Official IRA commander Joe McCann in Belfast in April 1972.

Lord Blencathra said: "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. One 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 added: "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."

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