Boris issued British Army warning amid ‘disgraceful’ Northern Ireland legacy prosecutions

Northern Ireland: Servicemen criticise treatment of British veterans

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In a letter provided to, a series of former servicemen attacked the Government for failing to solve the scandal of legacy prosecutions of British veterans for years and branded Boris Johnson as letting down heroes who were prepared to lay down their life for the country. The letter emerged before a decision on Wednesday which saw the Government promise to end all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998. But former veterans minister Johnny Mercer slammed the latest decision as a sell-out and said “a statute of limitations without qualification is an amnesty”. The decision also applies to former-IRA terrorists involved in killing British soldiers.

The ferocious letter, which came prior to the decision, slammed the Government for its actions: “The last five years have seen a steady stream of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of former and active service people for alleged wrongdoing in theatres of military operations. 

“No-one should ever condone service people deliberately breaking national or international law. Those who willfully commit crimes, in the full knowledge that they are acting illegally and immorally, must be held responsible for their actions.

“We must, however, reject entirely the persecution of service people for actions legitimately taken in the line of duty. In particular, we object to prosecutions over events in Northern Ireland. 

“While there, our soldiers operated under a mandate provided by the Governmentinitially, an order by the Government of Harold Wilson to provide support to the civil powers – later the Emergency Powers Act 1926, amended in 1964 and invoked under proclamation in 1974.”

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It continued: “The events of the so-called Bloody Sunday have been subject to multiple inquiries, including one that took 12 years to complete and cost £400 million. But the events that day involved a direct chain of command – starting at cabinet minister level and descending through the Senior General in the Province, down to the local brigade commander, commanding officer, and company commander.

Natural justice alone demands that those placed in harm’s way by their nation and at the orders of a chain of command are entitled to the reciprocal support and protection of that nation.

“This is, after all, the fundamental basis of the Military Covenant. That Covenant is being set aside for reasons that remain unclear. Nor are consistent rules being applied – rules that must surely apply to everybody.

“How can it be right to issue a blanket pardon for criminal acts committed by the IRA in Northern Ireland while persecuting those soldiers operating in support of the laws that those same IRA men set out to break.

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“And it is surely equally unjust to prosecute soldiers involved on the narrow basis of the Saville Enquiry; that inquiry took no account of the actions of armed IRA men on the day and of the fuller context in which individual soldiers may have found themselves.

“Finally, the current round of prosecutions in Northern Ireland are being conducted without a jury, in a ‘Diplock’ style court. The 1688 Bill of Rights, which is in force, lays down the right to trial by jury unless parliament sets aside that right. We have seen no evidence that parliament has done so – and so why is this case going ahead?”

On Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position we take lightly.

“But we’ve come to the view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation. It is, in reality, a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.”


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But former veterans minister Johnny Mercer said he was disappointed with the decision, saying: “It would be wrong to welcome this after I’ve categorically stated for so long that this would not be the best option. Similarly, it would be churlish to not welcome progress. I hope the NIO can work hard to bring the families of the victims with them.

“A statute of limitations without qualification is an amnesty – something I have always opposed. We should not – in all conscience cut off pathways to justice where evidence exists, simply because of time passed – it would be wrong to do so, and veterans who fought to keep the peace within the strict constraints of the law in Northern Ireland have never advocated this path.

“There are much better, much more professional ways of dealing with legacy in Northern Ireland, but this was always the simple answer – I understand why the Government is doing this, but I would have done things differently.”

The letter to was signed by Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, Commander British Forces Sierra Leone, Iraq and DCOM NATO forces Afghanistan; Major-General Julian Thompson, Commander 3 Commando Brigade, Falklands War; Major-General Tim Cross, Commander Theatre Troops, Iraq; Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott, Flag Officer Submarines and Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander British Provincial Reconstruction Team, Afghanistan.

The Government, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Veterans have been approached for comment.

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