Belfast Telegraph

Cash for ‘endless’ Troubles probes better spent on victims, says Lord Hain

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain
David Cameron
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A former Northern Ireland Secretary has questioned the merit of "endless" prosecutorial investigations into Northern Ireland's past.

Lord Hain also said a £150m package earmarked for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles would be better spent funding the needs of those bereaved and survivors, rather than pursuing convictions.

He suggested using some of the money to fund a pension for 500 people who were severely injured during the Troubles.

His comments come in the wake of the decision to prosecute a former Paratrooper over Bloody Sunday.

The Army veteran, known only as Soldier F, will stand trial for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney. He has also been charged with four attempted murders.

Thirteen people were killed and 15 people wounded after members of the Army's Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside on January 30, 1972. A 14th later died in hospital.

Lord Hain, who served as Secretary of State for two years from 2005 to 2007, said the case raised "fundamental" questions about how we deal with the past.

In an article for Parliament's The House magazine, he asked: "Where is this process of endless prosecutorial investigation into Northern Ireland's past leading?"

The Labour peer referred to figures which show that from 2006 to 2014, the Historical Enquiries Team completed work on 1,615 cases involving more than 2,000 deaths.

Only 17 were referred to the PPS and only three resulted in prosecutions and convictions for murder - just 0.2%.

A proposed new Historical Investigations Unit would have a case load of about 1,700 Troubles-related deaths and aim to complete its work in five years.

Lord Hain, however, is sceptical about its merits.

He wrote: "Why should it be more successful after the extra passage of time - stretching back up to 50 years including the death from natural causes of people who were in one way or another involved?

"Is the £150m the government has now promised really the best possible use of that money?

"Surely there are much more effective ways of helping victims and discovering information to explain the loss of loved ones?

"Indeed, Bloody Sunday victims welcomed the apology by David Cameron in 2010 after the exhaustive Saville report had trenchantly criticised the state and the security forces.

"As the Bloody Sunday investigation shows, prosecutions are being considered for former members of the armed forces - perhaps because records and information are more readily available, unlike for former paramilitaries."

Earlier this month Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Ministry of Defence is working "to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated".

However, Lord Hain said it was "essential" to treat past cases in "an absolutely even-handed manner".

"But that also means former military personnel cannot be exempt - as some, including it seems Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, are suggesting -while other former combatants, either loyalist or republican, are pursued," he said.

"Where will all this end?"

Lord Hain said there was a massive diversion of resources into investigating old crimes with no prospect of a successful outcome.

He said government funding set aside for dealing with the past should be put to better use.

"The priority is surely now to use the £150m the government is offering to resource victims, not prosecutions that have little or no likelihood of delivering satisfactory closure," he added.

"A good start would be to fund the pension for the nearly 500 severely injured demanded by the Wave Trauma Centre, and backed across all the benches in the Lords, costing just £5m."

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