Probe into 300 killings by Army during Northern Ireland Troubles blasted as 'witch-hunt and betrayal'
The police investigation into more than 300 killings involving soldiers in Northern Ireland during the Troubles has been described as "a witch-hunt".
Since 2013 the PSNI's Legacy and Justice Department has been investigating all 302 Troubles-related deaths at the hands of the Army.
However, the probe has sparked controversy, with some politicians - including Tory MP and Army veteran Johnny Mercer - angry that up to 1,000 soldiers face police interviews and possible prosecutions.
Mr Mercer said: "This is a witch-hunt, as well as total and complete betrayal by the Government of those who have done its bidding.
"If we could demonstrate in Government just some of the courage our Armed Forces have displayed over the years in Northern Ireland, the entire historical allegations money machine would end."
But People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann - who was a leading campaigner in the Bloody Sunday justice campaign - said that it was right to hold the State accountable.
"When people who are wearing a uniform and representing the State do something outside of the law then it is necessary that the State is called to account for their actions," he said. "The vast majority of cases where a soldier was involved in a killing, the person killed was totally innocent and absolutely not involved in any paramilitary organisation."
Among the killings already scrutinised is that of Joe McCann, one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists, shot by soldiers in 1972. A former paratrooper connected to this death could face prosecution if the Public Prosecution Service proceeds with a case.
The man, identified only as Soldier C, said: "It is a disgrace. I was doing my duty in Northern Ireland, trying to protect the public and keep the peace.
"Now I am being thrown to the wolves."
However, Helen Deery, whose brother Manus (15) was shot dead by a soldier, said no one should be above the law.
She said: "My brother's killing was classified as 'unjustified' at his inquest - something our family waited 45 years to hear.
"There was no investigation of his death at the time. It is only now innocent deaths are being looked at, and that is something that needs to happen."
Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Doug Beattie MLA, who won the Military Cross in the Army, warned that the history of the Troubles must not be rewritten to deflect blame away from the terrorist groups that caused 90% of deaths.
"As a former soldier myself with 34 years' service, I am acutely aware of the pressure under which front line troops operate and the extraordinary situations which they are sent into," he said.
"That was as true of those who were sent into Northern Ireland under Operation Banner as it is of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We must never forget that 90% of Troubles-related deaths were at the hands of loyalist and republican terrorist groups.
"Only 10% of deaths were due to the actions of State forces. The disproportionate focus on this 10% is causing immense damage and is assisting those who are seeking to rewrite history and portray the State and its agents as the villains of the piece."
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, head of the PSNI Legacy and Justice Department, said: "There is no new single probe or bespoke inquiry into deaths attributed to the British Army.
"All Troubles-related deaths will be reviewed by the Legacy Investigation Branch using the case sequencing model, which does not prioritise military cases.
"This is not a new decision."
Mr Hamilton added:"If there is a political decision to establish a Historical Inquiries Unit, Legacy Investigation Branch responsibilities will pass to it."