Ex-sol­diers get 1,300 let­ters from MoD over Ul­ster deaths

Daily Mail - - News - By Ian Drury Home Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

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’

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