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When should deaths in war be classed as crimes?

Northern Ireland secretary faces calls to resign after saying killings by security forces during the Troubles were ‘not crimes’

Northern Ireland Secretary, Karen Bradley, has faced calls to step down after telling MPs killings by security forces and police during The Troubles were “not crimes”.

“Over 90% of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime,” she told the Commons on Wednesday. “The fewer than 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes.”

Claiming soldiers and police were “people acting under orders and instructions, fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”, Bradley showed “an apparent ignorance of the history of Northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday and other incidents, including allegations of collusion with paramilitaries and shoot-to-kill policies,” reports The Guardian.

Her comments drew a furious backlash from the families of victims who lost their lives during the 30-year sectarian conflict.

Liam Wray, whose brother was killed when British paratroopers opened fire on human rights protesters on Bloody Sunday, told the Irish Times it was “like a statement from a colonial governor of the past, lording over people.”

Facing mounting calls to stand down, Bradley was forced into a humiliating apology, but “after almost 24 hours of facing pressure to say sorry, Karen Bradley's statement may be too little, too late for some.” says BBC Northern Ireland Political Reporter Jayne McCormack.

Whatever the personal consequences for the Northern Ireland secretary, her comments have reignited the wider debate about the actions of army and police in conflict zones.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has said if a soldier or police officer shot someone they should be investigated.

“Where people have lost their lives we should all be equal under the law,” he said. “There should be a thorough and effective investigation.”

Next week, four army veterans are expected to be charged with murder for their part in Bloody Sunday, where 14 people were killed when British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of civil rights demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972.

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the prospect of British soldiers going on trial for actions they committed while on duty “completely turns the stomach of the British people”.

Northern Ireland SDLP MP Colum Eastwood told RTE it appeared Bradley’s comments were part of the British government’s “cack-handed” attempts to influence the decision due next week from the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service about whether British soldiers will be prosecuted for the Bloody Sunday killings.

The latest intervention comes “at a strained time for relations in Northern Ireland, with the border question dominating Brexit talks and deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly”, reports The Independent.

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