A former police chief who is investigating a number of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland has said victims’ families have contacted him in tears about the Government’s plans to ban Troubles prosecutions.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis outlined the Government’s legacy proposals on Wednesday, including introducing a statute of limitations on prosecutions.
The proposed plan, which political parties in Northern Ireland have described as a “de facto amnesty”, would apply to ex-paramilitaries and former members of the security forces.
Jon Boutcher, the former chief constable of Bedfordshire, heads Operation Kenova, which has probed the activities of Stakeknife, the Army’s top agent within the IRA.
They are proposals, but let's not beat around the bush here, there is a clear agenda from the Conservative Government to protect veteransJon Boutcher
Reacting to the Government plans, he said: “The rule of law has stood us incredibly well. To take away the hope, the prospect, the potential of justice for these families, and these are some of the most heinous crimes committed in the United Kingdom in modern history, certainly doesn’t sit with me comfortably.
“They are proposals, but let’s not beat around the bush here, there is a clear agenda from the Conservative Government to protect veterans.”
Mr Boutcher added: “I speak to veterans all the time. The military have been incredibly supportive of Kenova, they have been responsive, they have given us answers, and whether suspects or witnesses, the relationship has been a good one.
“So, the veterans I speak to very much do not support that type of statute of limitations.
“I’m sure I speak for all the police service, and actually all the military, it’s the rule of law that sets us apart. I think it is a miscalculation to apply a statute of limitations in the name of the veterans.”
Mr Boutcher said he felt the families of victims had been “let down”.
He said: “I read the paper last night as many families will have done and my phone rang off from families who were in tears.
Those families that I have spoken to are really sensible and realistic about the prospect of prosecutions, they know they would be incredibly rareJon Boutcher
“These families have been let down, given unfulfilled promises and endured countless setbacks, but always conduct themselves with the greatest of dignity and humility. And I think that continued yesterday.
“Whenever announcements are going to be made, can we please make sure we sit down with the people that these announcements most concern, and not do it through briefings in the press?”
He added: “Those families that I have spoken to are really sensible and realistic about the prospect of prosecutions, they know they would be incredibly rare, but to take away the chance of a prosecution to almost diminish or lower the value of the life of their loved one, I think is a miscalculation.
“And I would hope that these proposals are engaged upon, and that the people who have put them forward, listen to everybody who has responded so far with almost no exception to say that this would be the wrong thing to do.”