Belfast Telegraph

Veterans won't be unfairly pursued over allegations from past, vows Mordaunt

Johnny Mercer
Johnny Mercer
DUP MP Gavin Robinson
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt

By Gavin Cordon

New Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said it is a "personal priority" for her to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued in relation to allegations of historical misbehaviour.

Ms Mordaunt's promise came after Conservative MP Johnny Mercer told Theresa May he would no longer support the Government in the Commons unless the prosecution of ex-servicemen and women ends.

A former British soldier is currently facing murder charges over the killing of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, former Army officer Mr Mercer said he found the repeated investigations into allegations, some dating back decades, "personally offensive".

He said he was not prepared to vote for Government legislation, except on Brexit, until there were "clear and concrete steps" to end the "abhorrent process".

"As you know, the historical prosecution of our servicemen and women is a matter that is personally offensive to me. Many are my friends, and I am from their tribe," he wrote.

"These repeated investigations with no new evidence, the macabre spectacle of elderly veterans being dragged back to Northern Ireland to face those who seek to re-fight that conflict through other means, without any protection from the government who sent them almost 50 years ago, is too much.

"I will not be voting for any of the Government's legislative actions outside of Brexit until legislation is brought forward to protect veterans from being repeatedly prosecuted for historical allegations."

In a statement released shortly afterwards, Ms Mordaunt said: "This has dragged on for far too long and it is time for action. We owe it to those who take the greatest risk in the service of their nation.

"We will always hold our Armed Forces and the chain of command to account, but I want to ensure our service personnel are not going to be victims of unfounded allegations, as we saw in the case of IHAT (Iraq Historical Allegations Team) or pursued unfairly for events that took place decades ago. This is a personal priority for me."

Mr Mercer has campaigned against the pursuit of legacy cases from conflicts in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq since he entered Parliament in 2015.

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said Mr Mercer's move was "another sign of the frustration amongst MPs that elderly veterans who served in Northern Ireland are being hauled through police interviews with little or no support".

"Everyone should be equal under the law and equally subject to the law - we do not favour amnesties for anyone," he said.

"The on-the-run letters were an utter corruption of justice, as was the decision to throw open the prison doors and release people convicted of heinous crimes.

"Soldiers who were previously investigated should not be reinvestigated unless there is new evidence. The MoD should also ensure these mostly pensioners receive a defence fund so they can be properly represented.

"We have consistently raised this matter with the Government. Whilst they seem ready to progress a mechanism to help soldiers who served overseas, similar positive proposals have not been advanced for veterans who served here. Any mechanism which does not cater for soldiers who served in Northern Ireland is doomed to failure."

Mr Mercer's intervention will be seen in Westminster as further evidence of the Prime Minister's crumbling authority.

Responding to his letter, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We owe a debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of our Armed Forces.

"The issue of prosecutions of veterans is one we take extremely seriously and the Prime Minister is fully aware of the strength of feeling on this, both in Parliament and among the public.

"In relation to Northern Ireland prosecutions, we have been clear the system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the Troubles and to ensure members of our Armed Forces are not disproportionately affected.

"This is why we have consulted widely. There are a very large number of responses to that consultation and we will be responding to those in due course."

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