Belfast Telegraph

SF slams new Army chief over 'insult' to victims of military

By Josh Payne

The new head of the armed forces has been criticised after saying he will not allow soldiers to be "chased" by people making "vexatious claims".

Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon described the comments by Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter as "extremely insulting and hurtful".

She challenged Sir Nick to meet with families who have made claims over the actions of soldiers. Ms Dillon was responding to an interview in which he praised the "remarkable job" the Army had done in Northern Ireland and said incidents of veterans being pursued over groundless claims of wrongdoing "will not happen on my watch".

He said: "It is right and proper that if our soldiers have done something wrong then they should clearly be investigated.

"But only if they have done something wrong. We need to have standards, we need to have values that people are held against, otherwise we will lose the moral high ground.

"What is fundamentally wrong though is if they're chased by people who are making vexatious claims, and that will not happen on my watch. Absolutely not."

However, the comments were criticised by Ms Dillon, who is Sinn Fein's legacy spokeswoman.

"I would call on the British Chief of the Defence Staff to provide evidence of any such vexatious claims," she said.

"These comments are extremely insulting and will provide further hurt to families and victims of the conflict, some of whom have waited over 40 years for closure by way of an Article 2 investigation or inquest or the timely provision of disclosure in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones.

"During the conflict, state forces operated with impunity and we will resist any attempt to legalise this policy, which constituted an integral aspect of the British Government's sustained abuse of the human rights of Irish citizens both during and after the conflict."

However, Ulster Unionist MLA and former soldier Doug Beattie praised the comments from Sir Nick.

"The position we start from in Northern Ireland is one of imbalance," he said.

"Terrorists have been able to avail of early release from prison, royal prerogatives of mercy or royal pardons, and over 200 letters of comfort by the Blair government.

"Too many people have lost sight of the fact that 99% of victims during the Troubles were due to terrorist action and just 1% of the 47,000 victims were due to the police or Army.

"And unlike the security forces, every terrorist act was premeditated with unlawful death the intended outcome."

A consultation document issued by Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles does not include provision for a statute of limitations - also referred to as an amnesty - to the anger of many Conservative MPs.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is to look at "all options" to protect veterans from legacy investigations amid fears Second World War campaign survivors could be affected.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, Ms Bradley warned that implementing a statute of limitations could let terrorists off the hook.

Belfast Telegraph

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