British soldiers to face ten-year cut-off for historical prosecutions
New protections for army veterans accused of historical abuses comes amid furore over Bloody Sunday charges
British Army veterans will be protected from prosecution for alleged historical abuses under plans to introduce a ten-year limit on new cases.
The Times reports the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, will bring forward legislation in this year’s Queen’s Speech “after growing pressure on the government to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland”.
Next week, four army veterans are expected to be charged with murder for their part in Bloody Sunday, where 14 people we killed when British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of civil rights demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972.
A 12-year inquiry into the shooting, which is seen as one of the defining moments of the 30-year conflict, concluded paratroopers “lost control” and that none of those shot were “posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”.
Following the publication of the Saville report in 2010, then-prime minister David Cameron apologised for the army’s actions, branding them “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
However, the issue has resurfaced again after The Daily Telegraph first reported that a number of paratroopers in service that day could face charges including murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and perjury.
The prospect of British soldiers going on trial for actions they committed while on duty has deeply divided public opinion.
“Families will be devastated if no murder charges are brought” says the Telegraph, “while the prospect of dragging Army veterans, some in their late 70s, into the dock will provoke a furious reaction and accusations of a betrayal of troops”.
Williamson, who has repeatedly decried what he calls a “witch hunt” against ex-servicemen, has said the case relating to Bloody Sunday “completely turns the stomach of the British people”.
Meanwhile, the ex-head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt, said it was “part of a wider Sinn Fein agenda to rewrite history to create the narrative that Crown Forces were oppressive and that people were fighting for their rights”.
“It rather overlooks the fact that the vast majority of deaths that occurred in the Troubles were criminal acts carried out by terrorists,” he told the Daily Mail.
There is also outcry at what many see as a double standard in the law.
If convicted of murder, army veterans could face life in jail. By contrast, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement terrorists subsequently convicted of atrocities committed during the Troubles can be jailed for a maximum of two years.
Many argue a statute of limitations should be introduced, with the 1998 peace agreement as a cut-off date.
Whitehall sources last week confirmed to the Daily Express, “there was still no appetite for a statute of limitations, with ministers preferring instead to hold investigations in which witnesses are protected by prosecution amnesties”.
However, Williamson has now said the government “has to do something to make sure our soldiers and veterans have the protection they deserve”.