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Soldier IRA Bomb survivor slams PSNI probe of ex-soldiers while letting terrorists 'go free'

By Rebecca Black

A former soldier who survived the Ballygawley bus bombing said a police service which pursues soldiers over allegations in relation to Troubles deaths but won't bring IRA men who tried to kill them to justice is "not fit" to wear their uniform.

James Leatherbarrow spoke out to the Belfast Telegraph last night after the Veterans Party received a letter from the PSNI informing ex-military personnel that it does not have the necessary resources to re-investigate all Troubles-related crimes.

A number of former soldiers had asked the PSNI to launch probes into terror attacks against them when they served in the region during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. However, more than a year after they lodged their complaints the PSNI has told them it cannot.

Ex-soldier Mike Harmson, a member of the Veterans Party lobby group, claimed the decision "only highlights the terrible injustice that we veterans have been subjected to by both the PSNI and local government".

In a letter to the veterans, the PSNI said that from 1969 to 1989 there were over 35,000 shootings, 15,000 bombings and more than 3,200 deaths reported to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The letter continued: "The PSNI has recently assessed both its capacity and its obligation to review or re-investigate non-fatal crimes that occurred during The Troubles. Whilst every indictable offence remains open until all perpetrators have been brought to justice, there's no binding legal obligation upon the PSNI to proactively re-examine all the crimes that occurred during this period. If we were to do so, it would require such a significant use of our resources that our ability to protect the people of Northern Ireland today would be drastically undermined."

The letter continued: "The PSNI does not have the necessary resources to review or investigate any non-fatal Troubles-related crimes, committed against any persons, including soldiers, police officers, the broader public, or members of paramilitary organisations, where there is no binding legal obligation to do so."

Mr Leatherbarrow described the situation as "ridiculous". He puts his survival of the Ballygawley bus bomb - that killed eight of his colleagues and seriously injured scores more of the 35 who had been in the vehicle - down to members of two marching bands who happened upon the scene. They dragged him to safety and called an ambulance.Mr Leatherbarrow suffered a broken back and internal injuries, and even now, 29 years later, he is affected by his physical injuries and traumatic memories.

"I am disgusted with what the police are doing," he said. "It's bad enough when you are talking to a terrorist and you know he has killed someone yet there is nothing you can do about it, but for police to go around arresting soldiers, it's ridiculous.

"A lot of people (in England) are talking about what is going on, you hear about that poor man, 60 years of age, served in Northern Ireland and now he has been arrested for questioning. Just sitting at home watching TV with the family and police arrest him. It makes you wonder.

"We were only doing a job over there. We were protecting the people. We get medals, we are classed as heroes yet treated like s****.

"Our hands are tied, we were over there doing our duty. You saw a person walking around with a petrol bomb and it wasn't lit, there was nothing you could do because they were 'no threat to you'. They light it and there was still nothing you could do. They take aim to throw it at you, and only then you can do something. We were governed by cards and rules, but the IRA certainly were not," he continued.

Mr Leatherbarrow added: "They (the PSNI) shouldn't even be wearing the Queen's badge. They are a disgrace to Queen and country. They are vigilantes to soldiers at the moment, while they let the IRA go free."

Those alleged to have been responsible for the Ballygawley bomb were killed by the SAS shortly after the atrocity, but Mr Leatherbarrow believes a senior Sinn Fein politician gave the order. "I believe a senior Sinn Fein man gave the command. I know who it is. I would love to meet him face to face and ask 'did you give the order for Ballygawley, and if he goes silent you know he had'," he claimed, adding: "He has got blood on his hands."

Mr Harmson accused the PSNI of "doing absolutely nothing to investigate the serious crimes committed against us".

"It would appear that we veterans who gave so much are being brushed under the carpet of history by those who attempt to re-write the bloody legacy of the Troubles," he commented.

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