By Edward Malnick, Whitehall Editor
Telegraph Online – 28 October 2017
Criminal action against soldiers should be banned if the allegations are more than 10 years old, to stop veterans being "hounded into old age" by "bogus" cases, MPs will say this week. The Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee is among a cross-party group backing a proposed bill that would introduce an expiry date on prosecutions of British military personnel.
The legislation, put forward by Richard Benyon, a former Minister, is intended to stop soldiers being targeted now over events that took place in Northern Ireland in the Seventies and Eighties, as well as a tide of "ludicrous" claims brought by lawyers paid from public funds over Iraq and Afghanistan. It comes after Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, suggested to MPs last week that he wanted to see a statute of limitations considered for alleged crimes committed by troops during the Troubles – an indication that the bill put forward this week could be supported by the Government.
Its 11 sponsors include Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, which has previously recommended a statutory limit, Madeleine Moon, a Labour member of the committee, and two Democratic Unionist Party MPs, whose party's election manifesto called for a similar move.
Last year it was reported that all British soldiers involved in fatal shooting incidents during the Troubles in Northern Ireland would face fresh criminal investigation. The news sparked anger among veterans who claimed they were being pursued by a “witch hunt” over incidents that can date back nearly 50 years. They have also alleged investigations are disproportionately looking at deaths involving security forces, with paramilitary terrorists thought to have been responsible for 90 per cent of killings.
A new bill to introduce a statute of limitations on prosecutions and civil legal claims will be proposed this week by Mr Benyon, who served in Northern Ireland with the Royal Green Jackets. The MP, a member of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, said:
"There are now hideous circumstances in which elderly men are taken from their families in the early hours and flown to Belfast for questioning. We have serving and former soldiers who have been subjected to ludicrous processes of lawyers accessing public funds to go after them with bogus claims - putting them through enormous strains. In some cases soldiers being hounded into old age. This has got to be gripped. I think this is an opportunity for Parliament to reflect the will of the nation. If a case cannot be brought within 10 years it should not be brought".
Mr Benyon said that the issue is "personal to me" as a result of seven members of his battalion being killed in one of the worst IRA atrocities on the British mainland. The soldiers, all bandsmen in the Royal Green Jackets, died after a device exploded under a bandstand in Regent’s Park on July 20, 1982 - hours after an attack in Hyde Park that killed four personnel.
Mr Benyon will introduce his proposed Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill on Wednesday using the 10 minute rule motion device which allows MPs to propose their own laws. The move comes six months after Phil Shiner, the disgraced lawyer who led the “witch hunt” against Iraq war veterans that cost the British taxpayer £100 million, was struck off as a solicitor for dishonesty. Shiner’s claims led to the Government setting up a number of inquiries, including the now discredited Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat), at a total estimated cost of £100 million. All but a handful of allegations have now been dismissed as without foundation.