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Fears Troubles legacy bill gives perpetrators ‘power over victims’, claims campaigner


Sandra Peake of the Wave Trauma Centre

Sandra Peake of the Wave Trauma Centre

Sandra Peake of the Wave Trauma Centre

Those directly affected by the Troubles in Northern Ireland feel as if the perpetrators of violence against them now have “power over victims” in new legislation tabled by the UK Government to deal with legacy, according to a campaigner.

Sandra Peake from the Wave Trauma Centre described the new legislation as “hugely difficult” and said moves that would cut off civil action by victims would be “carefully” being examined by lawyers.

Ms Peake told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme said anything that “undermines the rule of law is wrong”

“That is really where our key issue is today. Why is murder in relation to the Troubles different from murder undertaken in the streets of London, Cardiff, or Scotland?” she said.

“One mother compares her son’s murder to the murder of Stephen Lawrence in London, in relation to the fact we wouldn’t ask people to give up their rightful process of seeking justice. That inequity is a huge issue for many families.

“We have had successive reports telling us the same thing. There needs to be a mechanism that investigates cases.

“A number of years ago I would have said it is very difficult but what we have seen now is through operations like Operation Kenova led by John Boutcher that this is possible.

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“The key issue in that is that Operation Kenova has full policing powers. I suppose there is an issue around confidence.

“Confidence in relation to what information will be released confidence in whether it will be released.

“In some ways perpetrators have power over victims they have a choice, they can engage, they don’t have to engage - but those families who are bereaved don’t have that.”

New legislation around the Troubles started its journey through the Commons on Tuesday.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will offer an effective amnesty from prosecution for Troubles-era crimes.

It follows proposals first mooted last year, which were almost universally opposed by political parties across the UK and Ireland as well as victims' groups.

Immunity will be offered to those who are deemed to have co-operated with an information retrieval body.

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) will be headed by a judge.

The legislation will also stop future inquests and civil actions related to the Troubles, however it does not fully close the door to criminal prosecutions.

It is understood victims' campaigners are considering mounting a legal challenge to the Bill.

Ms Peake said in recent years a “rhetoric” has developed that “victims and survivors are holding us back”.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. What they want is fairness. What they want is equity and ultimately what they want to know is their loved ones life mattered,” she added.

“To do that [move forward] we do need to address the past. We have families who continue to be jeered at, sneered at and winked at, by those responsible for their families' murders.

“I think the lawyers will be looking carefully at this and I have no doubt families will be looking at their options.”

On Tuesday Secretary of State Brandon Lewis described a "very difficult area", adding: "It can be very painful for people."

However, he said the current system "isn't working for people", and that it should not take 50 years for people to get information about the death of their loved one.

Mr Lewis told the BBC the legislation would "give people a reason to come forward and a motivation to come forward that at the moment simply doesn't exist".

Danny Kinahan, the current Veterans' Commissioner for Northern Ireland, has given the new Bill a “cautious welcome” and said “veterans' families are as important as everyone else”.

"They want to know what happened. They also want a chance for justice. That was the main message I was giving to the Secretary of State over the year,” he said.

"It is a step in the right direction. We are never going to please everybody. We have a system that doesn’t work.

"I am confident when I am talking to soldiers, they want to come forward. They want society to realise what they did.

"They want to go in there give evidence and show they did nothing wrong. We wanted a fair and balanced system and I think this gives us a better chance.

"I urge everybody to come forward from all sides. I am confident veterans will come forward and give the truth.”

Northern Ireland’s new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Ian Jeffers said victims and their families were not expecting the bill to emerge as rapidly as it did.

“Clearly... victims and their families they want justice. In the short time I have been in the role that is what I have heard,” he told the BBC.

“They still want to know who planted the bomb, who pulled the trigger and why. As long as there is a slim chance they can find that out, they don’t want that removed from them.

“[The argument is] this will give people a reason and motivation to come forward. I am not sure it will.

“Everybody does want something different, but everybody wants truth. We need to see what that leads to. If we are to move forward, we have got to understand the truth.”

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