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Renewed demands for ending of veterans 'witch-hunt' after an ex-soldier takes his own life

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A British Army on patrol in Belfast in the 1990s

A British Army on patrol in Belfast in the 1990s

Johnny Mercer

Johnny Mercer

Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie

A British Army on patrol in Belfast in the 1990s

The Government is under increasing pressure to end the "witch-hunt" against Army veterans after a former soldier who was being investigated over his actions in Northern Ireland took his own life.

The veteran, named by friends as Eddie 'Spud' Murphy, was found dead by his wife last Thursday.

He had survived an IRA bomb attack during his time serving in Northern Ireland, but had been subject to an investigation into his conduct during the Troubles, and it's understood friends fear the pressure he felt at being investigated over historical allegations may have contributed to the tragedy.

While admitting he did not know the circumstances of Mr Murphy's death, UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie said the government had failed former soldiers over its lack of clarity on legacy issues.

"I've got to be honest and I don't know why Mr Murphy has taken his own life. There could be family reasons, financial reasons. I don't know the individual or whether he received a letter saying his actions were to be investigated," said Mr Beattie.

"What I do know is that what is happening to veterans is a contributing factor to the fear they are experiencing.

"Things like this can tip them over the edge. Every time a story surfaces soldiers are left feeling they are being hounded.

"Veterans genuinely felt they were being of service to their country and the Government has failed them.

"The lack of clarity allows so-called human rights lawyers to look for any scrap of paper that can link former soldiers to illegality. They are running amok."

Mr Murphy is understood to have served with the Scotland based 1st Battalion, Royal Highland Fusiliers, in Northern Ireland, where he survived at least one bomb attack by the IRA.

A friend of Mr Murphy, using the name Dukesy, broke the news of his death on Twitter, saying: "My friend took his life today. He served in Northern Ireland, was blown up by the IRA and fortunate to survive. More recently he was subject to the historic inquiry witch-hunt. He tried to take his life three times before, this time he succeeded. A victim of the IRA. RIP Spud."

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Johnny Mercer

Johnny Mercer

Johnny Mercer

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said he was aware of the death and that the Government was working quickly to protect British soldiers. He said: "My heart goes out to this individual and his family.

"The Prime Minister has promised legislation to end vexatious and repeated prosecution of veterans without new evidence. He tasked me to do it. By March 18. And we will."

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings, who goes on trial next month for his alleged part in a fatal shooting in 1974, is seeking a judicial review of the Government's promise to protect elderly veterans from prosecution.

Mr Hutchings (78), has accused ministers of abandoning him and other veterans who risked their lives while on service. The former member of the Life Guards regiment has pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties. John Pat Cunningham (27) was shot in the back near Benburb, Co Tyrone.

"It wouldn't surprise me that this has happened. I know what all the stress of this feels like," he said.

Mr Hutchings' solicitor, Matthew Jury, of McCue & Partners, added: "This death stresses the need for the Government to take urgent action.

"It is desperately sad and it's not the first one."

The Ministry of Defence said: "The Prime Minister has been clear we will end the vexatious prosecutions of veterans, including bringing forward legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

"This Government takes the wellbeing of all those who have served extremely seriously.

"Former service personnel can access specialist medical care from the NHS, and every part of England now has a dedicated mental health service for veterans.

"Veterans can also call the MOD-funded 24-hour helpline, the Veterans' Gateway, in times of need."

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