Up to 200 former security personnel in Troubles probes
As many as 200 former members of the security forces are being officially investigated for alleged Troubles-related crimes, it has been reported.
Between 150 and 200 former soldiers and police are being probed, according to a Ministry of Defence estimate.
The figure, reported by the Guardian last night, comes amid a deepening row over the pursuit of military veterans over Troubles-era incidents.
Last month it was announced that a former Parachute Regiment soldier known as Soldier F will face prosecution for his role on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
He is charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and the attempted murders of four others.
A second veteran known as Soldier B is to face trial over the death of 15-year-old schoolboy Daniel Hegarty in Londonderry in 1972. The former soldier is also accused of wounding with intent in respect of the shooting of Christopher Hegarty (17), Daniel's cousin.
The Guardian reported that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were increasingly at odds over how to deal with historical accusations.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed an amnesty for former soldiers accused of historical crimes.
His department is preparing a Bill that would impose a statute of limitations on prosecutions relating to alleged offences committed outside the UK and dating back more than 10 years - unless there are exceptional circumstances or new evidence.
However, the Guardian said it had seen correspondence from the NIO this month in which it sought to reassure Belfast-based campaign group Relatives For Justice that any scheme would not cover Northern Ireland.
The NIO is reported to have told the group: "What we want is a way forward which provides for evidence of wrongdoing to be investigated and, where evidence exists, for prosecutions to follow."
Last night DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he "did not recognise" the figure of up to 200 investigations.
"We do know that there have been discussions between the NIO and the MoD in relation to dealing with legacy cases," Mr Donaldson stressed.
"I know that Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson has expressed very clearly his concern that there is far too much focus on what the State did during the Troubles and very little on what the IRA and other terrorist organisations did.
"I know that Gavin Williamson has been looking at ways in which greater legal protection can be provided to veterans of the Armed Forces - and we would be very supportive of his stance on this issue."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the MoD should substantiate the figures.
He added: "The reality is quite simple. Around 300,000 soldiers served in Northern Ireland during our Troubles and 99%, if not more, served with great professionalism, courage and dignity - and must be commended.
"Those who did not, those who went outside the rule of law, the laws of armed conflict, or the rules of engagement, should be investigated, and it is right to investigate them.
"But it is important to remember that they did adhere to military and civil law, whereas the terrorists did not, so I will remain sceptical about this figure of 200, although I know that there are some who are being investigated."
Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles has long been a contentious issue.
Since the announcement of Soldier F's prosecution, veterans groups in Northern Ireland and England have staged mass protests against the decision.
In their local government manifesto, Sinn Fein accused the Government of trying to "cover up" its role in State killings.
A UK Government spokesperson said: "The system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the Troubles and to also ensure members of our Armed Forces and police are not disproportionately affected. This is why we have consulted widely on the system in Northern Ireland.
"The 2017 manifesto made clear any approach to the past must be consistent with the rule of law. We have always said that we will not introduce amnesties or immunities from prosecution in Northern Ireland.
"The Ministry of Defence is currently looking at what more can be done to provide further legal protection to service personnel and veterans, including considering legislation."