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Mordaunt to face MPs over veterans 'witch-hunt' row

Immunity call: James Heappey
Immunity call: James Heappey

By George Ryan

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is expected to face MPs in the Commons today amid pressure to protect veterans from "legal witch-hunts".

Conservative Mark Francois, a former Armed Forces Minister, insisted it was "absolutely imperative" that Ms Mordaunt makes a statement to outline her proposals. Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood replied by confirming Ms Mordaunt will "be in her place" today, suggesting the request will be met.

The exchanges came after Tory MP James Heappey, a former Army officer who served in Northern Ireland, urged the Government to call a halt to investigations into military veterans.

Ms Mordaunt last week announced plans for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the proposals, there would be a "presumption against prosecution" in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years, unless there were "exceptional circumstances".

As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served here, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.

A number of veterans are currently facing charges, including Soldier F, who has been charged in relation to the killings of two protesters during Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie has slammed plans for a military statute of limitations which would also "deliver more protections for the terrorists while denying victims and survivors any chance of truth and justice".

The Military Cross recipient said: "What better excuse do the IRA and their surrogates in Sinn Fein need in promoting the idea, unhindered, that soldiers operated outside the rules prescribed to them, and that as a result the IRA were just protecting their community?"

He said he would not support a statute of limitations "which will create an amnesty".

He said the UUP also cannot support the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) "which ignores victims and survivors while placing state forces at the top of the investigatory pile".

He accused the Government of allowing "a seedy deal" between Sinn Fein and the DUP for the HIU as part of the Stormont House Agreement "that will see every killing by the military and police reinvestigated while ignoring hundreds of atrocities committed by the terrorists".

Sinn Fein victims spokeswoman Linda Dillon said there can be "no prospect of immunity for British soldiers guilty of crimes in Ireland".

The Mid Ulster MLA said: "MPs can have as many debates as they like on the issue but the fact is that any attempt to introduce immunity would simply not be tolerable or acceptable.

"No British soldier, past or present, can be exempted from the due process of the law."

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