Hilary Meredith has accused the Government of a “fundamental dereliction of duty” over reports that British troops will be denied amnesty from prosecution for deaths during the Troubles.
Today’s Telegraph says a consultation document being drawn up by the Northern Ireland Office on how to handle legacy killings will rule out protection for Armed Forces veterans.
Reacting to the news, Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:
“It will be a fundamental dereliction of duty if the Government fails to enact a statute of limitations to protect our troops from this witch hunt.
“Anything other than a statute of limitations, setting the maximum time after which legal proceedings may be initiated is a betrayal of our veterans, many of whom have already have had their lives ruined by false accusations and flawed, aggressive investigations.”
Two former British paratroopers, who cannot be identified, are already to stand trial for the murder of an official IRA commander in Belfast 46 years ago while another veteran Dennis Hutchings, 77, has been charged with attempted murder over the death of a man with learning difficulties in 1974. Numerous other veterans also now fear prosecution for events which occurred almost 50 years ago.
“When a significant time has passed witnesses’ recollections and memories fade, documentary evidence is lost and other evidence is weakened. A fair trial is impossible.”
According to The Telegraph, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to have expressed his “grave concern” that the refusal to give an amnesty will lead to a witch hunt of Northern Ireland veterans. Mr Williamson drew comparisons to the hugely controversial criminal investigations into British troops in Iraq that was shut down a year ago after a public outcry.
“Let’s be absolutely clear, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was shut down because it was a witch-hunt against our troops which did not result in a single prosecution.
“Closure came at a price – not only the £60 million cost to the taxpayer but the shattered lives, careers, marriages and health of those falsely accused over many years.
“History must not be allowed to repeat itself.
“If the Government allows charges to be brought against veterans who served during the Troubles it will be complicit in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice this country has ever seen.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain and member of the Defence Committee that published a damning report into the pursuit of troops over Iraqi deaths, said: “I’m afraid this is not acceptable, it’s as simple as that.
“I cannot support this Government in their endeavours if they make basic errors of judgment like this. No-one else is going to stick up for these veterans – they were there advocating Government policy.
“The Prime Minister has a difficult executive decision to make. I’m afraid on this one, she hasn’t got options other than doing the right thing.”