End pursuit of veterans for Troubles-era shootings, says Fallon
A former Defence Secretary has called for the Government to draw a line under the pursuit of veterans for Troubles-era cases.
Sir Michael Fallon said the explicit consent of its chief legal adviser, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, should be required before any more prosecutions are brought.
It comes amid growing anger at claims that four ex-soldiers could be charged with murder over the Bloody Sunday massacre.
Thirteen people were killed when soldiers from the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights marchers in Londonderry on January 30, 1972. A 14th person died months later.
The Saville Inquiry ruled that all those killed were innocent, and left open the potential for charges to be brought.
Prime Minister David Cameron issued an apology in the House of Commons on behalf of the British state after the report was published, saying: "What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong."
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) will announce if former soldiers will stand trial for a variety of offences - including murder next Thursday.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Sir Michael, Defence Secretary from 2014-17, said veterans should not be treated as footballs by today's politicians and campaigners.
"All three of the Army's major campaigns in the last 50 years are now being placed at the mercy of human rights campaigns and crude politics," he claimed.
"Who would now enlist, do the very best to serve our country, and then fear a knock on the door 30 or 40 years later?
"It's time for this Government to draw a line."
Sir Michael said that Mr Cox should have a veto on future cases. He added: "There is a wider public interest here: the consent of the UK Attorney General should be required for any more prosecutions involving British troops, and should be withheld if he concludes that the soldiers involved were doing what they believed to be their duty.
"Cases where there is no new evidence should be binned and the soldiers accused given a binding letter of exemption from any further action."
At the weekend it emerged that Gavin Williamson, Sir Michael's successor, is set to propose a 10-year limit for the prosecution of military veterans.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there will be a "storm of utter fury from the public" if murder charges are brought.
He said it was "incredible that we are on the verge of putting these old men on trial for crimes that are alleged to have been committed 47 years ago".
Mr Johnson said it seemed "brutal and unfair" to penalise people decades later "for a misjudgment they may have made in the pressure of the moment".
However, Foyle Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion said Mr Johnson's comments were disgraceful and hurtful to relatives.
"The remarks also showed disrespect to the ongoing court case into the massacre by attempting to pre-empt the legal outcome."
"What happened on Bloody Sunday was not a 'misjudgment' as Boris Johnson has claimed. It was murder and that's why there is an ongoing murder inquiry."
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday, Colonel Richard Kemp claimed there was a "gross imbalance between terrorists and soldiers being prosecuted". He said: "The terrorists went out with the specific intention of illegally killing, maiming and destroying; soldiers went out with the specific intention of stopping that and saving lives," he said.
"That's not to say that in some cases, in the occasional case, you didn't get a bad soldier who wanted deliberately to do a bad thing, because you do. What I'm talking about is the gross imbalance between terrorists and soldiers being prosecuted.
"You have men being sent out onto the streets of Northern Ireland and the fields of Fermanagh and south Armagh who are effectively fighting a war, a very serious war. At least in 1972/73, more soldiers were killed in those years than were killed in Afghanistan, which was recognised as a war.
"And you can't expect young soldiers to always get things right in those very confusing circumstances. So of course, as well as the occasional bad soldier you also got the occasional incident, perhaps more than the occasional incident, where things went wrong and soldiers shot someone they shouldn't have done.
"That can't be compared in any way to a terrorist who deliberately goes out to murder."
The PPS said speculation around prosecutions was "likely to cause significant and undue distress to the Bloody Sunday families".