British veterans have said the ex-paratrooper being prosecuted over the Bloody Sunday shootings is “one soldier too many”.
Known as Soldier F, he will face charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell in Londonderry in 1972.
Sixteen other veterans and two ex-members of the Official IRA, all of whom were investigated, will not face prosecution.
But former Grenadier Guard Alan Barry, who founded the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group, said Soldier F was being thrown “under a bus”.
The Government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution.Gavin Williamson
The 54-year-old, who served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, said: “It’s very one-sided. No soldier should be charged. It happened 47 years ago, a line in the sand needs to be drawn and people need to move on.
“Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, veterans are being left open to prosecution while terrorists have been cleansed of their past crimes.
“It’s all about appeasement: appeasing the IRA, appeasing Sinn Fein, and if that means throwing one or two veterans under a bus then that’s what they’ll do.”
He was speaking outside the Supreme Court in London on Thursday, where around 40 supporters of 77-year-old former soldier Dennis Hutchings had gathered.
Mr Hutchings is facing prosecution over the fatal shooting of John Pat Cunningham during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
Conservative MP and former British Army officer Johnny Mercer tweeted it was “ironic that Dennis is back in court today”, adding it was “a genuine disgrace and stain on this Nation that this process continues”.
Ironic that Dennis is back in court today. This is some of our veterans's every day, not just today. It is a genuine disgrace and stain on this Nation that this process continues https://t.co/D9bp7V6vu5— Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) March 14, 2019
Mr Mercer also tweeted that the Bloody Sunday charges brought against Soldier F were the result of “an abject failure to govern and legislate, on our watch as a Conservative administration”.
“When I speak of a chasm between those who serve and their political masters in this country, I mean this,” he added.
One banner outside the Supreme Court read: “Our veterans fought for you, our veterans died for you, now it’s your chance to fight for us” while another urged “stop the witch-hunt now” – an expression used by several supporters.
Former Coldstream Guardsman Vern Tilbury, 58, accused the country of “spitting on” its veterans and said the Government looked upon former soldiers as “collateral damage”.
Ex-Artillery Sergeant Maurice Durward, 78, who spent 22 years in the Army, said he would not encourage his grandson to sign up because of the “betrayal of politicians”.
Mr Mercer also criticised as “utterly meaningless” an announcement by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Mr Williamson said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was working to “drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated”.
He added: “And the Government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution.”
The MoD will support soldier F and pay his legal costs, Mr Williamson added.
The issue of a future amnesty for veterans remains an issue of intense controversy in Northern Ireland.
Last year, the Government angered some of its own backbenchers and Mr Williamson when it did not include a statute of limitations on prosecutions of ex-service personnel among proposals for dealing with Northern Ireland’s toxic past.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said such a measure would be unacceptable, because it would also have to cover terror suspects accused of historic crimes.
The prospect of a statute of limitations met with vocal opposition in Northern Ireland.
Both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists voiced concern, as did the Irish Government and representatives of the victims sector.
The DUP and some military veterans in Northern Ireland made the point that any such statute would, by law, have to be extended to also cover former paramilitaries – something they branded unacceptable.
Thirteen civil rights demonstrators were shot dead on January 30 1972 on one of the most notorious days of the Northern Ireland Troubles.