By Michael McHugh
Belfast Telegraph – 13 June 2018
An influential committee of MPs has launched an inquiry into protecting British war veterans from prosecution following all conflicts. The Westminster Defence Committee called for former soldiers facing investigations into Troubles-related fatalities in Northern Ireland to be safeguarded using an official statute of limitations.
The Government is consulting on measures addressing the country's violent past, including an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to search for opportunities for prosecution. Committee chair Julian Lewis said:
"Our concerns are such that we intend to return to the subject of statute of limitations and, once again, to explore how former service personnel can be protected from the spectre of investigation and reinvestigation for events that happened many years, and often decades, earlier."
His committee's report last year called for the enactment of the legal statute covering all incidents during the Northern Ireland conflict up to the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement which involved former members of the Armed Forces.
Committee members said they were disappointed and surprised that the Northern Ireland Office's consultation on addressing the legacy of decades of violence did not reflect their recommendations. Backbench MPs have led a vociferous campaign for a statute of limitations to end what they claim is a "witch-hunt" against members of the armed forces.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said the treatment of Northern Ireland veterans was unfair, while Northern Ireland's former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory said soldiers were not treated unfairly. Paramilitaries were responsible for most of the killings in Northern Ireland.
Official statistics for prosecutions show a minority involved the army. Mr Lewis added:
"The Government has a moral duty to defend those who served in the defence of our country, whether that was in Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan.
"Even veterans of the Falklands campaign in 1982 have told me that they, too, could be targeted.
"It simply cannot be right that veterans, who were the subject of investigations at the time of the events in question and subsequently cleared, are now living in fear of re-investigations and the threat of prosecutions."