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Villiers slams 'distorted and pernicious' bid to put security forces at heart of the Troubles

By Noel McAdam

The Secretary of State has warned against a "pernicious" attempt to rewrite the history of the Troubles.

Theresa Villiers said any bid to suggest misconduct by the security forces was widespread was a "deliberate distortion".

"Of all the deaths that occurred during the Troubles, 60% were caused by republican groupings, 30% by loyalists and 10% by the State," she told an event at Ulster University.

"Today we face a pernicious counter-narrative. It is a version of the Troubles that seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism and place the State at the heart of nearly every atrocity and murder that took pace, be it through allegations of collusion, misuse of agents and other forms of unlawful activity."

Speaking days after a number of meetings with victims' groups, Mrs Villiers also warned of potentially fatal consequences if certain information was made public. "There are notorious examples of where people accused of being informants have been hunted down and murdered," she said, adding that details of how the police, Army and security agencies work could be of value to dissident republicans and Islamists.

Mrs Villiers admitted, however, there were "truly shocking instances" where security forces personnel "fell drastically short of standards". But she also praised the work of the RUC during the Troubles and said: "I am convinced that, in the vast majority of cases, they carried out their duties with exemplary professionalism.

"It wasn't the RUC or the Army who planted the bombs at La Mon, Enniskillen or the Shankill, or pulled the triggers at Loughinisland or Greysteel. But it was the RUC and the Army who, often at great personal danger, foiled countless terrorist plots and attacks, and in doing so saved hundreds of lives."

The problems on the past were not "insurmountable", she added, reiterating that a comprehensive deal was closer than many believed. She also responded to criticism from Justice Minister David Ford that money set aside under the Stormont House Agreement just over a year ago could be used for a number of controversial stalled inquests.

"It's a simple fact that the current system was never designed to cope with a large number of highly complex and sometimes linked cases involving very sensitive information," Mrs Villiers said. "We will continue to seek a workable reform of the system of legacy inquests.

"I understand the concern felt about resources, and if reforms go forward, of course the UK Government would look very seriously at whether some of the Stormont House legacy funding could be released early to support inquests."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said it was clear the Government had no intention of publishing proposed legislation on handling the past.

"Sinn Fein and the DUP probably have the Bill already," Mr Attwood added. "They should therefore have no objection to victims and survivors, and others, seeing all of its clauses."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is writing to the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and Ulster Unionists asking for a joint demand for the proposed Bill to be made public.

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