Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May block on amnesty for troops useless as she's on way out: DUP MP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Theresa May in Downing Street
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Theresa May in Downing Street
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Theresa May's personal block on ministers putting forward legislation which could have protected former soldiers from prosecution for alleged offences during the Troubles is "not relevant", a DUP MP has said.

The Prime Minister had issued instructions that a consultation document on dealing with the legacy of the conflict should not contain references to "amnesties" or a "statute of limitations", according to a leaked memo seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

It goes on to say that military veterans should be offered "equal, rather than preferential, treatment" relative to other groups covered by the consultation, which included terrorists.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell dismissed the content of the leaked memo, calling it "the dying embers of the May premiership".

The DUP's 10 votes in the House of Commons prop up Mrs May's Government.

Mr Campbell said: "She seems to infer that some people are looking for preferential treatment for soldiers, when in fact the problem is they are getting anything but preferential treatment - in fact it is the exact opposite.

"Paramilitaries got what was a 'get out of jail free card' in that no matter how many people they killed or how many terrorist acts they were involved in, they were going to be released from prison early, and if they were going to be sentenced after that, the maximum they were going to serve was two years.

"No such limitation or release applied to soldiers and if any soldier - for example the Bloody Sunday case, Soldier F - was charged now they won't qualify for early release."

Mr Campbell added: "I don't think what she said will upset the apple cart because we are in the dying embers of the May premiership anyway, so it isn't really going to be relevant because inside a couple of weeks or a couple of months she won't be there.

"Any leaked memo she has written or authorised is not really going to cut much mustard.

"It is going to be what her successor says or does and that person has to learn the mistakes of Theresa May in more ways than one."

Party colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We recognise the need to provide proper legal protection for the armed forces and those who served our country.

"We support legal protection, but are opposed to any amnesty that includes terrorists.

"Legislation should cover all operational deployments, including Northern Ireland. It would be wrong to exclude Northern Ireland from protection for the armed forces, and we have sent that message loud and clear to the Government."

Earlier this year the Public Prosecution Service said two former soldiers will be charged with murder in two separate incidents, both in Derry.

One, Soldier F, is facing murder charges in connection with the death of two of the 14 people who died in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was among the dead but is not one of the people Soldier F is accused of murdering, welcomed Mrs May's intervention.

She said: "Why should anyone get preferential treatment when it comes to investigating serious crimes? If the evidence is there, and the Prosecution Service says there is evidence, then the case should go to trial.

"That's what happens in any civilised society but the British Government seem to think its soldiers who commit war crimes should be protected from investigation and prosecution. Everyone is entitled to due process, but I have to say there were many within the Conservative Party who tried to deny this to the Bloody Sunday families, including Boris Johnson and Karen Bradley, so I welcome Theresa May giving this direction.

"We are interested in securing a conviction, the sentence that comes with that conviction is of no interest to us. I couldn't care less if they didn't serve a day behind bars."

The disclosure of the memo comes after new Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt last week announced plans to legislate for stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the proposals there would be a "presumption against prosecution" in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years, unless there were "exceptional circumstances". As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.

A Government spokesman said: "The Ministry of Defence have proposed legislation to provide better support and stronger legal protections for serving and former personnel facing investigation over alleged historical offences overseas.

"This will ensure veterans are not subject to repeated investigations many years after the events in question where there is no new evidence.

"A separate consultation has been run by Northern Ireland Office on how to deal with the past in Northern Ireland, and the conclusion of that will be announced as soon as possible."

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