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Theresa May demands balanced approach over probes into Troubles' killings

By Jon Vale

The Prime Minister has said she believes it is "absolutely appalling when people try to make a business out of dragging our brave troops through the courts".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May said investigations into Troubles killings should reflect the fact that 90% were carried out by paramilitaries.

She was speaking after a Tory former minister said it was "profoundly wrong" that British veterans are being pursued decades after their service while £1m is paid out to a terrorist".

Former defence minister Sir Julian Brazier hit out at the criminal justice system for its treatment of veterans in Northern Ireland, some of whom are facing investigations for their actions during the Troubles.

Sir Julian compared this to the fate of British Islamic State fighter Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a suicide bomber who previously won a £1m payout from the Government.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was "entirely wrong" if historic investigations into the Troubles focused on soldiers rather than IRA terrorists, adding that she wanted to see a fair and balanced approach taken.

Sir Julian said: "Could I put it to her that for many of us, there is something profoundly wrong with a criminal justice system which can pursue veterans who risk their lives for this country 40 years on, long after any possibility of new evidence, while at the same time is capable of paying out £1m to a terror suspect."

Mrs May replied: "The overwhelming majority of our armed forces serving in Northern Ireland served with great distinction and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

"The situation we have at the moment is that there are cases being pursued against officers who have served in Northern Ireland.

"What we want to see as we develop the legacy body under the Stormont House agreement is a proportionate, fair and balanced approach to that.

"We recognise that the majority of individuals who suffered were actually resulted at the hands of terrorists." Earlier, Defence Select Committee chairman Julian Lewis had raised similar concerns about the treatment of Northern Ireland veterans. Mrs May responded: "I think it's absolutely appalling when people try to make a business out of dragging our brave troops through the courts.

"In the case of Northern Ireland, 90% of deaths were caused by terrorists and it's essential that the justice system reflects this. It would be entirely wrong to treat terrorists more favourably than soldiers or police officers.

"That's why, as part of our work to bring forward the Stormont House Agreement Bill, we will ensure that investigative bodies are under a legal duty to be fair, balanced and proportionate, so that our veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated."

Mr Lewis said Mrs May's reply "doesn't go quite as far as I and many other people would like".

Mr Lewis called for a statute of limitation to be introduced for actions by soldiers in Northern Ireland prior to the date of the Belfast Agreement, given the lack of prospect for new evidence to come forward.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said Mrs May's comments had insulted the many victims of state forces.

"The verbal attack by Theresa May on those who she claims have dragged British soldiers through the courts is dangerous and disgraceful," she said.

"In the past we have had attacks, directed by the British government through its agents and proxies. No one can be above the law and everyone should be held to account."

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