Victims' group: Karen Bradley told us Army amnesty will not apply to Troubles soldiers
A victims' group is claiming the Secretary of State has pledged that any future amnesty for soldiers involved in controversial killings will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland.
Relatives for Justice said Karen Bradley made the promise during a meeting with victims of security force killings at Stormont on Friday.
The claim comes in the run-up to Thursday's announcement on whether Bloody Sunday soldiers will be prosecuted.
Relatives for Justice chief executive Mark Thompson said the pledge that any proposed statute of limitations for members of the armed forces would exclude here was made three times during the hour-long meeting.
He said Relatives for Justice had an accurate note of the meeting and the group had also asked that it be officially minuted.
In a separate move, Mrs Bradley last night apologised to the House of Commons for her "deeply insensitive" comments on security force killings in the Troubles. She appeared before MPs to "correct the record" for her "inaccurate" remarks.
The Secretary of State faced calls for her resignation after saying killings by police and soldiers were not crimes but the actions of people "fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way".
Mr Thompson said Mrs Bradley attended last Friday's meeting with her special adviser Lord Caine and the Northern Ireland Office's director of strategy and legacy Chris Flatt.
"Three times we asked if there would be an amnesty or statute of limitations for soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland and three times we were told there would not be one," Mr Thompson said.
"We were told any such mechanism would apply only to soldiers who had served overseas - in Iraq, Afghanistan or future theatres of conflict."
Given the strong support for an amnesty among many Tories, Mr Thompson said victims' campaigners had asked if a deliberately mixed message was being sent out with victims told one thing and veterans another. He said Relatives for Justice had requested that an unambiguous public statement be made on the matter but this was declined.
"But we were told that the Government was crystal clear that a statute of limitations would not apply to Northern Ireland veterans," he added.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has voiced his determination to introduce a statute of limitations and it has been reported that the Prime Minister has told Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to see what legal protection can be given to soldiers facing claims from disputed killings.
When asked by the Belfast Telegraph if Mrs Bradley had made the pledge that soldiers who served here be excluded from any amnesty, a Government spokesperson said: "The Government's 2017 Northern Ireland manifesto made clear that any approach to the past must be consistent with the rule of law. We have consistently said that we will not introduce amnesties or immunities from prosecution.
"The Defence Secretary is looking at the wider question of whether UK soldiers need additional legal protections in past and future conflicts, in line with our domestic and international legal obligations."
The spokesperson continued: "It is important to remember that for the majority of Operation Banner, the Army was deployed in support of the civil power to uphold the rule of law in Northern Ireland and was at all times accountable to it.
"In all circumstances, where there is any evidence of wrongdoing this should be pursued, without fear or favour whoever the perpetrators might be."
Mrs Bradley told Parliament yesterday: "In response to an oral question on March 6, I made inaccurate comments regarding the actions of soldiers during the Troubles.
"It is right that I address these remarks to the House today and correct the record. What I said was wrong, it was deeply insensitive to the families who lost loved ones in incidents involving the security forces.
"I have apologised unreservedly for the offence and hurt that my words caused. Today I repeat that apology, both to the families and to Members of this House. The language that I used was wrong."
Mrs Bradley said she was "grateful" to affected families for giving her the opportunity to apologise in person last week.
Shadow Secretary of State Tony Lloyd suggested Mrs Bradley should make a fuller statement to the House.
"One of the prime necessities for anybody in the role she has is that they have the confidence not simply of the political parties but of the broader civil society in Northern Ireland, in particular, the victims' families because of the pain that they've gone through," he said.
Mr Lloyd added that a justice process for these families had yet to be delivered and that the Secretary of State had "lost the confidence" of some political parties and the families.