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Tebbit: Republican terrorists escape justice with ‘get out of jail free’ cards

Defence Minister Earl Howe said he had “enormous sympathy” with what the peer had said.

Republican terrorists have avoided justice by waving their “get out of jail free” cards while British veterans of the Northern Ireland Troubles face the threat of prosecution, a Tory former Cabinet minister has said.

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit, whose wife Margaret was paralysed in the 1984 Brighton bombing by the IRA, raised his concerns in the House of Lords over the treatment of former soldiers, who served during the conflict.

And he indicated his frustration at the controversial issuing of letters to ‘On the Run’ paramilitary suspects under Tony Blair’s government, which critics claim amounted to an amnesty.

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Lord Campbell of Pittenweem questioned whether it was in the public interest to prosecute people, now in their 70s, for historical events (PA Archive)

Liberal Democrat former leader Lord Campbell of Pittenweem also questioned whether it was in the public interest to prosecute people, now in their 70s, for historical events.

Speaking in the Lords, Lord Tebbit said: “Does the minister agree that there is something odd about this situation?”

He argued that Northern Irish republican terrorists had murdered Tory MPs, including Airey Neave and Ian Gow, attempted to murder the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and “crippled my wife and gravely injured me”.

Lord Tebbit added: “It is a very long time since any of those sort of people have been brought to trial.

“When any suggestion of that is made, they wave their ‘get out of jail free’ cards, which they were issued by former prime minister Blair.

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Defence Minister Earl Howe said he had "enormous sympathy" with what the peer had said (Peter Byrne/PA)

“However, in the meantime, soldiers who were doing their duty protecting us and the citizens of Northern Ireland against those sort of terrorists are still under threat.”

Responding, Defence Minister Earl Howe said he had “enormous sympathy” with what the peer had said.

He said the Defence Secretary was working with the Northern Ireland Secretary “to ensure that closed cases are re-investigated, as opposed to re-examined, only where there are strong reasons for doing so, such as the availability of new evidence”.

Earlier, responding to a related question, Lord Howe said: “Regarding Northern Ireland, the Government are working to ensure that the approach to addressing the past is fair, balanced and proportionate and that veterans are fully supported throughout.”

Lord Campbell reminded the minister that a prosecution “has to be based not just on probable cause but on public interest”.

He said: “It is at least arguable that it is not in the public interest for people over 70 to be prosecuted in relation to events that took place a long time ago.”

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