War hero Collins brands probe into Army conduct in Iraq 'a witch hunt'
Northern Ireland's best-known modern military figure has lambasted the UK government after nearly 300 British personnel who served in Iraq were contacted by investigators over allegations of war crimes.
Iraq war hero Colonel Tim Collins criticised the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) - set up to investigate claims of murder, abuse and torture during the Iraq War - claiming the government-established body was a "witch hunt".
The Belfast man - who rose to prominence after a powerful speech to his men on the eve of the Iraq War - branded it a "fiasco" and said those serving in the Army adhere to "the highest standards".
"When wrong is done, someone will speak up. That is the simple reality of the British Army," he said. "
"(On Saturday) it emerged that a body called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, set up by the Ministry of Defence at taxpayers' expense, has written to a staggering 280 service personnel about their behaviour while in Iraq, warning that they can be compelled to act as witnesses. Some MPs have called this a 'despicable witch hunt', and I have to agree."
The 55-year-old also hit out at the "disgraceful industry" which he claimed will make life "much more difficult" for serving troops.
"It is a fact that a commander today faces far, far more risk to his or her career by ordering to engage a potential threat than losing the lives of servicemen by doing nothing," he added.
"When every potential gunman or bomber gets the benefit of the doubt, then we have lost our way."
The war veteran, who completed two tours of Northern Ireland, said that during this time commanders had to "walk on eggshells" because IRA members would be liable to a state compensation payout if a member or suspect was stopped five times or more in a month.
"It was a tactic of war for the enemy," he added.
"The difference now is the reach of the compensation culture."
He accused legal companies of making an industry out of 'discovering' and bringing complainants in front of British courts.
"In doing so, they have won millions of pounds for often spurious claims that would make even Sinn Fein blush," he said.
He acknowledged there were instances of abuse, including the case of Baha Mousa, who died in 2003 after serious mistreatment in British custody in Basra.
He also said the failure of the UK government to investigate all of the 37 deaths of Iraqi civilians involving British troops led to the intervention by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"The UK Government admitted in February 2004 that, of the 37 deaths of Iraqi civilians involving British troops, only 18 had been investigated by the Special Investigations Branch (SIB).
"It was a war of course, and people get killed in wars. But if there was any hint of wrongdoing, this must be followed up.
"Yet the situation into which we have now descended is little short of a fiasco. Politicians on all sides should condemn the compensation culture and demand a tightening of the process. Then it would stop - and with sheep separated from goats, the real abuse, if any, if left to be investigated, would be swiftly dealt with.
"Now we also have this witch hunt. To inflict such mental torture on those who served, simply for profit, is wrong.
"They went. They did not complain about the terrible food (we compensate detainees for this), the lack of sleep (we compensate detainees for this), the fear and shouted orders (we compensate detainees for this) - and they didn't ask for thanks.
"There is no doubt we have to uncover the truth. But we must end the abuse of the process for profit. Step up Mr Cameron, and get a grip on this disgraceful farce, for all our sakes."