Lord laments soldiers being ‘dragged in front of courts’

The Northern Ireland Office Parliamentary Under Secretary Lord Dunlop answers a question about the prospect of joint authority over Northern Ireland in the House of Lords, Wednesday January 18 2017
The Northern Ireland Office Parliamentary Under Secretary Lord Dunlop answers a question about the prospect of joint authority over Northern Ireland in the House of Lords, Wednesday January 18 2017

A former Army officer has hit out in Parliament at soldiers being “dragged before the courts” in relation to Troubles killings.

In the House of Lords, Tory Lord Robathan said soldiers had been sent to Northern Ireland to “protect the population” .

He specifically mentioned the case of Dennis Hutchings, an ex-soldier now aged 75 and living in Cornwall, who is charged with attempted murder against John Pat Cunningham.

Sir Henry Bellingham, speaking in Westminster Hall in December, said Mr Hutchings “vehemently denies” the attempted murder charge.

Mr Cunningham was a civilian with learning difficulties who was shot dead while running away from soldiers in Benburb, south east Co Tyrone, in 1974.

Lord Robathan, a former defence minister, said: “Successive governments over several decades sent soldiers, including myself, to Northern Ireland to protect the population, be they Catholic or Protestant, from terrorism and violence.

“Now some 40 years and more later old soldiers are being dragged before the courts although there is no new evidence against them.”

He urged ministers to impose the “legacy package” of the Stormont House Agreement, struck in December 2014.

This agreement includes such things as setting up the Historical Investigations Unit; a body separate from the PSNI, taking over of Troubles-era investigations.

Lord Robathan suggested this would lead to “more proportionate legacy investigations”.

The agreement includes such things as setting up the Historical Investigations Unit; a body separate from the PSNI, taking over of Troubles-era investigations.

Lord Robathan suggested this would lead to “more proportionate legacy investigations”.

The agreement says the approach to the past must be “balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable”, but does not specifically say resources should be apportioned mainly towards paramilitary-related crimes – although the government has indicated that this is what it wants.

Northern Ireland under-secretary Lord Dunlop, also a Tory, said: “We clearly want to build consensus on the way forward on how to deal with the past. I don’t think it’d be right to impose. We want to build that consensus, and that’s what we’ll focus on in the weeks ahead.”