Belfast Telegraph

MP brands Troubles-related prosecutions of ex-soldiers 'a witch-hunt'

Former British soldiers who risked their lives during the Troubles in Northern Ireland are being hounded through the courts in a "politically motivated witch-hunt", an MP has warned.

Former soldier turned Conservative MP Jack Lopresti said it is a "stain on our country's honour" that soldiers are being prosecuted while former IRA terrorists have been handed get out of jail free cards.

His comments come days after it was announced that two former soldiers with the Parachute Regiment will be prosecuted for allegedly murdering Joe McCann, an Official IRA commander in Northern Ireland.

The soldiers, known only as A and C, were allegedly part of the patrol which fired on Mr McCann, 24, in Belfast on April 15 1972.

Mr Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke), a former soldier who served in Afghanistan, raised the issue during the Christmas adjournment debate, during which MPs can raise any topic they want.

He said: "After the Good Friday Agreement hundreds of convicted terrorists were let out of prison in the name of peace and reconciliation.

"So we have lots of former terrorists walking the streets, some of which have worked their way up into quite eminent positions in political life."

He said there is an effectively a "de facto amnesty for former terrorists" while soldiers face the looming threat of prosecution.

"Yet the full force of the law is being used to prosecute people who are on the other side of the fence - former soldiers who were just doing their best, doing their duty and serving our great country", he said.

"Now this is clearly wrong and smacks of victors' justice.

"It cannot be right to let terrorists out of prison and give them get out of jail letters while at the same time we pursue former British soldiers."

For lasting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland there needs to be fairness on all sides, he said.

And the MP told of his pride at his youngest son Michael who has just passed out of his basic military training.

Mr Lopresti said: "When he is deployed on operations in the future and he asks me for I say to him be careful because if mistakes are made, if things go wrong if the politics change in the future or even 45 years later he could be pursued through the courts in his retirement in what is no more than a witch-hunt, a politically motivated witch-hunt?

"I don't think so."

He will tell his son the same advice he was given - not to hesitate to use force if he feels his or his colleagues' lives are in danger, he said.

He added: "Our Government needs to support former service people from this injustice, because what is happening now is a stain on our country's honour.

"We are letting down so badly the people who risk their lives to keep us safe and protect our freedoms and preserve our way of life."

Bob Stewart, the Conservative MP for Beckenham and a former Army officer, echoed a similar sentiment.

Colonel Stewart, who served during the Troubles and later became the first British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, said: " I don't maintain that our service men and women are above the law, of course they are not, but reopening all fatal shooting incidents involving soldiers is hugely one-sided and looks very bad to the armed services community and that includes me and several members of this House."

He added: "Our soldiers should not be under this cloud. They are not terrorists. Terrorists have been given amnesty and pardons in the Good Friday Agreement.

"Why should our men, some of them quite old now, not sleep soundly?

"Terrorists who have killed do so. It's wrong. It's wrong. It is iniquitous, possibly even malicious and a huge waste of public money while we are at it."

He called for authorities to desist from this "clearly politically-inspired blanket action against what could be almost 1,000 soldiers".

Deputy Commons Leader Michael Ellis said soldiers would be supported by the taxpayer in any legal action that might be forthcoming.

He said: "I want to say that her majesty's armed forces have made and continue to make such a contribution to peace and stability in Northern Ireland and they will be provided where necessary with as much taxpayer funded legal support as is necessary.

"Her Majesty's Government is aware of an imbalance in the system and as part of addressing the legacy of the past is looking to create a more balanced and proportionate system going forward."

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