Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday troops could apply for early release if jailed, says Bradley

Clarification: Julian Lewis MP
Clarification: Julian Lewis MP

By David Young and Donna Deeney

Security forces veterans convicted of Troubles-related crimes would eligible to apply for early release, the Secretary of State has indicated.

Karen Bradley said "anyone" convicted of such an offence and serving their sentence here would be covered by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which allowed hundreds of terrorists to walk free after serving just two years behind bars.

Ms Bradley's statement, in answer to a question in Parliament, comes ahead of an announcement today on whether the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday killings will face court action.

Prosecutors will confirm whether 17 ex-soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will face charges over the violence, in which 13 civil rights protesters were killed and a fourteenth died later.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis asked for clarification of the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 in a written question to Mrs Bradley, specifically asking whether the two-year cap applied to members of the armed forces, police and security services.

Mrs Bradley replied: "Under the early release scheme that formed part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and was given legislative effect by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, qualifying prisoners may apply for early release (subject to certain conditions) after they have served two years in prison.

"Currently, anyone convicted of Troubles-related scheduled offences and serving their sentence in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply to the scheme.

"Release is on licence, such licence being subject to revocation for non-compliance with certain conditions, as has happened in a number of cases. When a licence is revoked, an individual is liable to be returned to prison to serve out their original sentence.

"The provisions set out in the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill, on which we recently consulted, would amend the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to extend this two-year accelerated release scheme for Troubles-related offences to those serving sentences in Great Britain.

"The Sentences Act does not cover offences committed before August 1973, so the Bill proposes to extend the release scheme to cover the start of the Troubles.

"The Government has no intention to extend early release to offences committed after the date of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. There is no proposal in the consultation to do this and the Government is not contemplating it.

"The legacy consultation concluded in October and we expect to finish our analysis of the 17,000-plus responses shortly. It is right we take the time to consider each response fully and I will set out the next steps in this process as soon as I can."

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Defence (Mod) plan to cover the legal costs of soldiers who may face criminal charges over Bloody Sunday has sparked anger among the families of those who died.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael (17) was the youngest person killed on Bloody Sunday, said it was "scandalous" for the MoD to fund people facing charges.

However, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said it was right for the MoD to provide money for the case.

"It would be totally unfair to ask soldiers to pay for their own legal costs when even Lord Saville, whose inquiry these prosecutions are based on, is indicating he hadn't envisioned prosecutions," he said.

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