Belfast Telegraph

Tory MP proposes legislation to stop prosecution of Troubles-era soldiers

By Brett Campbell

A Conservative MP and former Army lieutenant who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles will introduce new legislation this week which will ban the criminal prosecution of former soldiers if it manages to become law.

Richard Benyon said the legislation is intended to stop ex-servicemen being "hounded into old age" by "bogus" legacy cases.

It would ban criminal action which is based on allegations that are more than 10 years old - the ban will also apply to civil legal claims.

Mr Benyon, who is MP for Newbury and a member of Parliament's intelligence and security committee, also hopes to end the "hideous circumstances" in which elderly men are being "taken from their families in the early hours and flown to Belfast" for questioning.

"We have serving and former soldiers who have been subjected to ludicrous processes of lawyers accessing public funds to go after them with bogus claims, putting them through enormous strains," he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"In some cases soldiers are being hounded into old age, this has got to be gripped - I think this is an opportunity for Parliament to reflect the will of the nation.

"If a case cannot be brought within 10 years it should not be brought."

Mr Benyon, who served with the Royal Green Jackets, will introduce the Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill on Wednesday and said the issue is "personal" to him.

He lost seven members of his battalion in one of the worst IRA atrocities on the mainland.

The soldiers, all bandsmen in the Royal Green Jackets, died after a device exploded under a bandstand in Regent's Park on July 20, 1982 - just hours after an attack in Hyde Park killed four personnel.

The legislation also aims to curb a tide of "ludicrous" claims relating to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon indicated that the Bill might have Government support after suggesting to MPs that he wanted to see a statute of limitations considered for alleged crimes committed by troops during the Troubles.

Julian Lewis, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, which has previously recommended a statutory limit, is among a cross-party group of 11 sponsors who are backing the new bill - Labour MP Madeleine Moon and two DUP MPs are also among the sponsors.

Mr Benyon's use of the 10-minute rule motion device - which allows MPs to propose their own laws - comes just six months after Phil Shiner, the disgraced lawyer who led the "witch-hunt" against Iraq war veterans that cost the taxpayer £100m, was struck off as a solicitor for dishonesty.

Shiner's claims, which were paid for with public funds, led to the Government setting up a number of inquiries, including the now discredited Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat).

Hundreds of veterans have taken part in protests throughout the UK since last year's decision to open fresh investigations into all killings by British soldiers.

The decision sparked anger among veterans who perceived it as a "witch-hunt" and claimed the focus on killings by soldiers is disproportionate.

Belfast Telegraph

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