Ministers at war over bill to end witch-hunt of Troubles veterans
MINISTERS are at loggerheads over a bill to stop investigations into British troops’ conduct in Northern Ireland from turning into a ‘witch-hunt’, it was claimed last night.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon wants legislation to stop the authorities launching probes into veterans in their 60s and 70s unless new evidence has come to light, sources said.
With police investigating British Army killings during the Troubles, there have been fears that up to 1,000 former soldiers could face investigations over their actions at the height of the IRA’s terrorist campaign.
But it is understood Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is pushing for the clause favoured by Sir Michael to be omitted so cases can be re-opened either way. Army sources said he was under pressure from Sinn Fein to ensure both sides were happy with the draft bill’s terms, although Mr Brokenshire’s office said they did not recognise this account of the dispute.
Last year it emerged a new police unit will investigate every British Army killing during the Troubles.
The taxpayer-funded Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) is ready to re-open
38 ‘fatal incidents’ which involved 30 deaths. Details of the row came as it emerged a Chelsea Pensioner has been told he could face more questioning over a death in July 197 . The 78-yearold was quizzed by Northern Irish police at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in 013 but never anything heard further.
He asked the Ministry of Defence if he could assume the case was concluded earlier this year but was told further investigations could not be ruled out. The former Royal Marine said last night: ‘They shouldn’t be investigating people unless there’s new evidence. This way it’s just hanging over my head.’
By banning the LIB from investigating cases unless new evidence comes to light, it is hoped a large chunk of the historic cases will be weeded out.
Other clauses include an upper age limit on who can be investigated, a fiveyear time limit on how long an inquiry can last, and a curb on the maximum sentences for anyone found guilty.
Mr Brokenshire’s office said his view was the same as that expressed in the Conservatives’ 017 manifesto, which pledged legislation will be ‘balanced’ and ‘not focus on former troops and police’.