Belfast Telegraph

Mordaunt wary of impact on troops in Troubles’ probes

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt

By Gillian Halliday

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has urged the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to consider the impact on former troops facing investigations into Troubles-era incidents.

It came as she detailed her latest efforts to protect ex-services personnel from prosecution.

Ms Mordaunt said her department - with the support of the Secretary of State - will be involved in any process conducted by the NIO when drawing up new rules addressing the controversial issue.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Mordaunt said the current approach was one-sided in its treatment of Army veterans.

"It is grossly unfair when serving personnel and veterans are subject to repeated investigations, with no new evidence, in connection with historical operations many years later," she said.

A number of veterans currently face charges, including ex-Paratrooper Soldier F, who has been accused in relation to the killings of two civil rights protesters during Bloody Sunday in 1972.

A former member of the Life Guards Regiment, Dennis Hutchings (78), is also to face trial for the attempted murder - a charge he denies - of John Pat Cunningham (27) in 1974.

Ms Mordaunt, who replaced Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary earlier this month, said that Armed Forces personnel are not "above the law, or exempt from it" if their actions fall short of international law as set out in the Geneva Conventions.

She also said that her plans for legislation to provide greater protection to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from repeated investigations into historical allegations will go out to public consultation this summer.

Under the proposals, there would be a "presumption against prosecution" in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years, unless there were "exceptional circumstances". As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served here, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt said earlier this month she intended to find a way they could be given similar protection.

Acknowledging the legislation - which she insisted would not be "an amnesty" for veterans - does not extend to Northern Ireland, she said her department will work with the NIO on legacy cases.

"I have agreed with the Northern Ireland Secretary (Karen Bradley) that my department will formally input to any process conducted by the NIO resulting from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement," she added.

Ms Mordaunt urged the NIO to consider the impact historical allegations have on members of the Armed Forces, along with the possible prospect of any future prosecutions on current personnel while on the field of battle.

Ms Mordaunt's comments came as senior Army officers reacted angrily to reports that Theresa May personally intervened to block ministers from proposing a new law protecting Northern Ireland veterans from murder prosecutions before she announced her resignation.

The revelation, previously reported by the Sunday Telegraph, has prompted fresh calls for an end to the "disgraceful" and "politically-motivated" prosecutions of soldiers who served during the Troubles.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who served in Northern Ireland and has previously criticised the decision to prosecute Soldier F, accused Mrs May - who will stand down next month - of failing to stand up for veterans.

"The sickening reality is that terrorists have been treated more favourably than soldiers, with many multiple murderers being released early from jail while elderly soldiers are dragged into court charged with offences that allegedly occurred half a century ago," he told the newspaper.

"These are politically motivated prosecutions. It is disgraceful that Theresa May and her Cabinet are willing to throw British troops to the lions."

The prosecution of Troubles' soldiers has prompted protests in Belfast and London, supported by thousands of veterans.

Last week Mrs May said she did not believe the system was operating fairly "at the moment", and reiterated her desire to change the system regarding cases related to the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

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