Over 1,000 NI veterans march on Downing Street over ‘witch-hunts’

A view of the rally in central London on Saturday

A view of the rally in central London on Saturday

More than 1,000 veterans marched on Westminster over the weekend in protest at what they view as the harassment of soldiers who served during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Dennis Hutchings, a 75-year-old from Cornwall who has been charged with attempted murder in relation to a shooting in 1974, told the crowds how servicemen and woman are being subjected to “gross abuse and witch-hunts”.

Over 1,000 veterans from the conflict in Northern Ireland attended the rally

Over 1,000 veterans from the conflict in Northern Ireland attended the rally

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson also addressed the rally, organised by the group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans.

Mr Donaldson told the News Letter the government must take action to address the “imbalance” in how the past is dealt with and suggested a statute of limitations on cases involving the Armed Forces and police if a certain period of time has passed.

The Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has now said investigations into killings during the Troubles are “disproportionately” focusing on members of the police and Army.

Mr Brokenshire’s comments were welcomed by Paul Hearson, a Northern Ireland veteran who was also the commanding officer of Mr Hutchings.

The rally attracted the support of a number of MPs

The rally attracted the support of a number of MPs

Mr Hutchings is charged with attempted murder in relation to the shooting of John Pat Cunningham in 1974. Mr Hearson, 65 and from London, retired from the Army about 40 years ago with the rank of captain.

When Mr Hearson was a troop commander in the Life Guards regiment, Hutchings had been his deputy – a role he adopted when they were stationed together in Germany, about a year after the fatal shooting.

Mr Hearson told the News Letter: “I supported the rally because it is the correct thing to do. It is quite wrong that the soldiers and members of the RUC are being chased four decades later. It is out of order. It is just not on and it needs to be corrected, particularly when the terrorists are getting away with it. It has to stop and I’m glad to see the secretary of state saying what he said.

“It has got to move forward now. Dennis Hutchings has got a committal hearing in March. He is 75-years-old and it is disgraceful that it has got this far. I would like to see it stopped before the 20th of March when the commital hearing is going to take place.

The four organisers of the rally from the group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans

The four organisers of the rally from the group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans

“It is a question of what is decent and fair but what is happening at the moment isn’t. It’s got to happen on both sides. At worst we need a judge or an independent QC to say there is no case to answer.”

Mr Hutchings and some family members addressed the rally on Saturday. The Telegraph reported Mr Hutchings as saying: “There are a few MPs who have had the guts to highlight the gross abuse and witch-hunts of servicemen and women of this country.

“However, the majority of MPs in this and previous governments – and I include those buggers in the Ministry of Defence who have spent millions on inquiries in Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan – have done absolutely bloody nothing for us.”

The veterans handed a letter to Downing Street, addressed to Theresa May.

The organisers with the letter addressed to Theresa May

The organisers with the letter addressed to Theresa May