Report calls for soldiers not to be pursued over Troubles crimes

An RUC man looks out at the scene of a bombing against a UDR Land Rover in Belfast city centre in February 1987.
An RUC man looks out at the scene of a bombing against a UDR Land Rover in Belfast city centre in February 1987.

UK soldiers who served during the Troubles should be protected from future prosecutions by a statute of limitations, a Westminster committee has recommended.

The adoption of the proposal by the defence committee comes after a number of former security forces members were recently charged with historic offences.

View of ambush in Warrenpoint, Co Down, in 1979, in which 18 soldiers were killed.

View of ambush in Warrenpoint, Co Down, in 1979, in which 18 soldiers were killed.

Its conclusion states that “expert witnesses agreed that the UK Parliament has it entirely within its power to enact such a statute”.

Whilst it is beyond the strict remit of the committee, the report also states that the government should extend this policy to ex-RUC officers too.

The report prepared by the committee suggests that ex-personnel be shielded from legal action over things which happened “between almost 20 and almost 50 years ago”.

The committee said it had received evidence from legal experts that a limitation for only security force members could leave the UK open to challenge that it was legislating for “state impunity”.

Youths bombarding an Army Saracen at junction on Whiterock Road in November 1980.

Youths bombarding an Army Saracen at junction on Whiterock Road in November 1980.

The committee did not recommend that the statute should cover all Troubles incidents, and said that this would “be a matter for the next government to decide”.

The report stated: “It is clear from the experience of these legacy investigations that, unless a decision is taken to draw a line under all Troubles-related cases, without exception, they will continue to grind on for many years to come, up to half-a-century after the incidents concerned.”

It further notes that under the terms of Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act, 1998, “terrorists who committed multiple murders during the Troubles face, in practice, no more than a two-year sentence, even if successfully prosecuted”.

The chairman of the defence committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, said: “To subject former soldiers to legal pursuit under the current arrangements is wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice.

1999: British soldiers errect rows of razor wire in the fields surrounding Drumcree church in preparation for an Orange parade.

1999: British soldiers errect rows of razor wire in the fields surrounding Drumcree church in preparation for an Orange parade.

“The UK Parliament has it entirely within its power to enact a Statute of Limitations in this matter – which is the only way to avoid another IHAT debacle.”

IHAT (standing for Iraq Historic Allegations Team) is a reference to an inquiry into alleged abuses carried out by the military related to the UK invasion of Iraq.

The committee is made up of five Conservatives (including its chairman), four Labour members, one SNP member and the DUP’s Gavin Robinson.

Along with a statute of limitations the committee called for a truth recovery mechanism to aid bereaved families.

The report has called for a statute of limitations on the pursuit of former military members

The report has called for a statute of limitations on the pursuit of former military members

The report is titled “Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel”.

Echoing the wording of the government report into IHAT, which concluded earlier in the year, the report states that “in adhering to the pursuit of justice and the rule of law, the government must not lose sight of its moral responsibility to those who have served our country”.

It adds: “That responsibility is just as great for veterans who served decades ago in Northern Ireland, as it is for current and former service personnel who served in more recent conflicts.”