British veterans 'abandoned' in bid for justice over IRA attacks

Police Ombudsman's office
Police Ombudsman's office

Former British soldiers say they have "hit a brick wall" in their efforts to seek justice for IRA attacks on them during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland said he has no powers to pursue a complaint against the police service for failing to probe terror attacks on army personnel in the region during the 1970s, Eighties and early Nineties.

Veterans were told by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in February it does not have the resources to re-examine all crimes that occurred during the Troubles.

In response, the veterans lodged a complaint with the police watchdog, an independent body that handles grievances about the conduct of PSNI officers.

However, the Police Ombudsman has now advised the ex-soldiers that the complaint is out of his remit as it refers to an operational decision taken by the PSNI.

Furious veterans have said they have been "abandoned" and treated as "second-class citizens".

They also hit out at the police investigation into the actions of soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry and the prosecution of veteran Dennis Hutchings for the attempted murder of a man who was shot dead by an army patrol in 1974.

"The PSNI and prosecution service appear to have enough resources to pursue veterans in relation to the Saville Inquiry (into Bloody Sunday) and also Dennis Hutchings' case.

"It would appear yet again that we are being treated as second class citizens by the Northern Ireland Government," said former soldier Mike Harmson, a member of the Veterans Party lobby group.

He added: "The lack of police resources is not our fault and the PSNI should treat us the same as other victims of The Troubles. We have been abandoned."

Mr Harmson is now planning legal action against the PSNI for failing to probe the attacks.

In February the PSNI wrote to scores of veterans who had asked for investigations into terror attacks against them during the Troubles and advised them there were not enough resources.

In the letter, the PSNI said that from 1969 to 1989 there were more than 35,000 shootings, 15,000 bombings and more than 3,200 deaths reported to its predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

The letter continued: "The PSNI has recently assessed both its capacity and its obligation to review or reinvestigate non fatal crimes that occurred during the Troubles.

"Whilst every indictable offence remains open until all perpetrators have been brought to justice, there's no binding legal obligation upon the PSNI to proactively re-examine all the crimes that occurred during this period.

"If we were to do so, it would require such a significant use of our resources that our ability to protect the people of Northern Ireland today would be drastically undermined."

The letter continued: "The PSNI does not have the necessary resources to review or investigate any non-fatal Troubles related crimes, committed against any persons, including soldiers, police officers, the broader public, or members of paramilitary organisations, where there is no binding legal obligation to do so."