Belfast Telegraph

DUP backs bid to stop veterans being taken to court over killings

Minister for Military Personnel and Veterans, Johnny Mercer
Minister for Military Personnel and Veterans, Johnny Mercer

By Jenna Gardiner

The DUP has said it will support a bid to prevent future prosecutions of ex-British soldiers for killings during the Troubles.

Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence, Military Personnel and Veterans, is seeking to establish new measures to protect former troops from prosecution for legacy matters unless dramatic new evidence is unearthed.

The former Army captain said he would be "deeply concerned" if more ex-soldiers were charged with serious crimes under his watch. It comes after his promotion to minister in the newly established Office for Veterans' Affairs.

Mr Mercer is unable to interfere in active cases where former soldiers have already been charged, but is exploring ways to prevent future prosecutions.

DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson expressed support for the proposal, saying he believes former members of the security forces have been the target of a "witch hunt".

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "While it remains our view that no one is above the law, we share the concern of many Members of Parliament that over the last few years there has been a witch hunt against the security forces and those who served in Northern Ireland.

"That has to stop because the current process is totally unbalanced and unfair.

"We would be supportive in principle of proposals to afford greater legal protection to those who served in the Armed Forces.

"That does not mean it places them above the law, but it does afford them greater protections that they don't enjoy at the moment as they are clearly being targeted for prosecution whilst terrorists walk free."

A former paratrooper known as Soldier F is currently facing prosecution on two murder charges and four attempted murder charges relating to Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed in March there was sufficient evidence to charge him with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney.

Mr Mercer revealed his plans to block any such further cases. He told the Daily Telegraph: "I'm going to change the politics of this and I'm going to change the conditions under which those judicial processes are undertaken.

"You cannot look at a case with no fresh evidence after 47 years and decide that you now have a watertight version of the truth that you can destroy a pensioner's life with and their families'."

Mr Mercer said he doesn't believe taking cases against ex-Army personnel brings justice for the families of victims.

He added: "If people break the law, they go to prison but in my view that's not what an awful lot of this is all about. Times were very different in the '70s in Northern Ireland and it is a mistake to try and retrospectively apply the conditions of today 47 years ago.

"It's disingenuous, it's dishonest and it is not justice for anyone (including) the bereaved families, those who were killed in the Troubles and families of veterans and the veterans themselves."

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