DUP aims to stop British veterans being investigated again

Party proposes statute of limitations in Commons to cover soldiers who served in North

 DUP defence spokesman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson hit out at human rights lawyers for their pursuit of those who served in the armed forces, police and security services. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

DUP defence spokesman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson hit out at human rights lawyers for their pursuit of those who served in the armed forces, police and security services. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The DUP is demanding measures to ensure British security forces veterans cannot face investigations into their actions during conflicts if they have already been investigated.

The party’s proposed statute of limitation would apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, as well as other war zones such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The party’s defence spokesman, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, hit out at human rights lawyers for their pursuit of those who served in the armed forces, police and security services.

In an opposition day debate in the House of Commons on historical cases in the armed forces, Conservatives former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth accused Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory of issuing “a fatwa” to the media to suppress criticism of his treatment of veterans. MPs also accused Sinn Féin of attempting to rewrite the history of the Troubles, turning the focus away from the IRA.

Leading the debate, Sir Jeffrey said the time had come for the government “to finally do something to protect the men and women who served our country”.

He added: “We believe the government must give urgent consideration to introducing a statute of limitations for soldiers and police officers who face the prospect of prosecution in cases which have previously been the subject of full police investigations.

“We’re talking about cases that were previously the subject of rigorous police investigations.

“We’re talking about cases relating to killings and deaths that occurred before 1998, and I think the government needs to look at this.

“It is wrong that our veterans are sitting at home, wondering if perhaps a third or a fourth investigation is now going to take place into their case, simply because some hot, fast-thinking, make-a-quick-buck human rights lawyer in Belfast thinks it’s a good idea to reopen this case.”

He added: “We believe that a statute of limitation should not only apply to Northern Ireland and Operation Banner [the British forces’ operation in the North], but consideration should also be given to other military deployments including Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

“This is not an amnesty, as each case will have previously been the subject of a thorough investigation.

“It is an appropriate and necessary measure to protect the men and women of our armed forces from the kind of witch hunts that, years after their retirement, have left many feeling that their service to this country is neither respected nor valued.”

Sir Jeffrey added: “There are many in Northern Ireland who wonder why the justice system is so focused on what the state did and devotes so little of its energy and time towards what the terrorists did.” Sir Jeffrey said that 90 per cent of killings during the Troubles were carried out by republican and unionist terrorists, yet resources were being focused on investigations into former armed forces personnel and the police.

‘Moral equivalence’

Northern Secretary James Brokenshire said there was no “moral equivalence” between soldiers who sought to uphold the law in the North and “terrorists who sought to destroy it”. He said: “For us, politically motivated violence in Northern Ireland was never justified, whether it was carried out by republicans or loyalists, and we will not accept any attempts to place the state at the heart of every atrocity, or somehow to displace the responsibility for where actions may lie.”

Mr Brokenshire said it was “appalling” when people tried to “make a business by dragging our brave troops through the courts”. He welcomed the decision earlier this month to strike off the lawyer Phil Shiner, who brought claims of abuse against British troops in Iraq.

Labour frontbencher Stephen Pound said relevant claims must be fully investigated. He said: “There cannot be a progress to the future without a complete settlement of the issues of the past.

“There has to be the closure, there has to be the investigation, there has to be the disinfectant of sunlight, to quote the phrase.”

PA