Ex-soldiers get 1,300 letters from MoD over Ulster deaths
THE Ministry of Defence has sent more than 1,300 letters to former soldiers seeking information on deaths in Northern Ireland.
The Army veterans – many in their 60s and 70s – are potential murder or manslaughter suspects over killings at the height of the IRA’s terror campaign.
They have been contacted over around 40 incidents dating back to the 1970s, including Bloody Sunday. Critics claim it is fresh evidence of a ‘witch-hunt’ against troops who served during the Troubles.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has sparked anger by reexamining every British Army killing. There is outrage that hundreds of elderly ex-soldiers – many suffering serious illnesses – are being put through another ordeal.
The Daily Mail has long campaigned for an end to the hounding of our troops. A freedom of information request by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper revealed the MoD had sent at least 1,381 letters to veterans since 2013 on behalf of the PSNI.
The total will be higher because the MoD did not disclose figures for cases where fewer than ten letters were sent. Some 386 letters relate to Bloody Sunday, when 13 people were shot dead after members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on demonstrators in Londonderry in 1972. Another died later.
The letters relate to inquests, ongoing criminal probes and investigations by the PSNI’s former Historical Enquiries Team. Ex-soldier Alan Barry, of the group Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans, said: ‘This is a fishing exercise looking for information. Our advice to veterans remains that they should put these letters in the bin and not cooperate in any shape or form.
‘Men being called upon to give evidence in an inquiry are in their late 70s. Their memories might be fading or it may have been a traumatic incident that they were involved in. The next thing is that they will be brought forward as part of a criminal investigation.’
Ex- soldier, Dennis Hutchings, 77, from Cornwall, has been accused of attempted murder in connection with a fatal shooting of a man he suspected of being an IRA member in Northern Ireland in 1974. He has been cleared by two previous investigations.
Philip Barden, of Devonshires Solicitors in London, who represents British troops, said: ‘ Former soldiers are asked to recall events and when they can’t it is suggested they are lying. The whole procbe ess is unreliable. I don’t think this is about a quest for the truth – it is about revenge and using the criminal process to that end.
‘Soldiers who were investigated and released should not be re- investigated in the absence of new material and reliable evidence. That should a line that isn’t crossed.’ Campaigners are angry that Army veterans are being probed while IRA terrorists who committed atrocities get off scot-free. A total of 187 onthe-run paramilitary suspects received ‘comfort letters’ from Tony Blair’s government which told them they were not being sought by police.
One was John Downey, 66, who escaped prosecution for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, which left four soldiers dead, because he was given a guarantee he was immune from prosecution. He has always denied involvement but was this week arrested in a probe over the murder of two soldiers in Northern Ireland.
The MoD said: ‘The welfare of our personnel and veterans is of the utmost importance.’ It stressed it had a legal obligation to assist with investigations and inquests.
‘This is about revenge’