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Repeat investigations of Troubles cases to end under new proposals

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Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

UUP MLA Doug Beattie

UUP MLA Doug Beattie

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Repeat investigations into Troubles cases are to end under new proposals announced by the Government today.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said ending the cycle of reinvestigations when there is no new compelling evidence would deliver on the Government's promise to protect former soldiers from "vexatious claims".

Under the new proposals, once cases have been considered, there will be a legal bar on any future investigation occurring.

Last July the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published a summary of over 17,000 responses to its consultation on how to address the toxic legacy of thousands of unresolved killings by the IRA, loyalists and the security forces.

Legislation to enact commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement, which include an independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), were promised by the Government within 100 days of the New Decade, New Approach deal.

They include a pledge to ensure that Northern Ireland veterans receive equal treatment to their counterparts who served overseas.

The proposals also include a "new independent body" to provide information to families and "swift examinations" of all unresolved deaths from the Troubles.

Only cases where there is "new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution" will be investigated in the proposals.

The package also proposed a central resource to be created to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles.

Mr Lewis said victims have been at the heart of the Government approach to "help the region move on to a brighter future".

"I hope that by giving as many families as possible information on how their loved ones lost their lives, we can help ease the difficult process of reconciliation," he said.

"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces for their service in Northern Ireland.

"That's why these proposals also put an end to repeated reinvestigations where there is no new compelling evidence and deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims," he added.

Mr Lewis said the proposals build on work to establish a victims' payment scheme to provide acknowledgement and a measure of financial support to those seriously injured in the Troubles.

The Government says it will now begin "an intensive period" of engagement with the Northern Ireland political parties, and the Irish Government, to discuss the proposals in detail.

But Ulster Unionist Justice spokesperson Doug Beattie, a former Army captain, said the proposals throw up more questions than answers.

He said: "We need to see the detail of this and cannot be expected to pass judgment on these proposals until we have had sufficient time to assess them.

"Who will be in this new independent body, what is the caseload, will it include murders committed outside Northern Ireland?

"Who will decide what is new compelling evidence, how long will this process last and at what cost?" he added.

"If this is just a reworking of the Stormont House Agreement and a rehash of the deeply flawed Historical Investigations Unit then we simply cannot support it.

"However, if this is truly an innocent-victims-centred process, with the investigation of terrorists and those who went out of their way to purposely bring carnage to our streets, then the Ulster Unionist Party will give it a fair wind," the Upper Bann MLA said.

Belfast Telegraph