Tory MP blames ‘nationalist-leaning individuals’ for Army Troubles probes

Dennis Hutchings is facing an attempted murder charge for a Troubles killing in 1974
Dennis Hutchings is facing an attempted murder charge for a Troubles killing in 1974

A Tory MP has accused “extreme nationalist-leaning individuals” in the Northern Ireland justice system of reigniting investigations into British veterans who served during the Troubles.

Richard Benyon, who served in the British Army in Northern Ireland, said many feared the investigations were “a form of retributive politics”.

He cited the case of pensioner Dennis Hutchings, who is facing an attempted murder charge linked to the shooting of a man who had learning difficulties in 1974.

Mr Benyon said: “The Northern Ireland director of public prosecutions claimed in January that new evidence had come to light.

“Many fear that we are seeing a form of retributive politics here.

“Extreme nationalist-leaning individuals within the Northern Ireland justice system have decided to reignite such investigations.”

The Newbury MP was introducing draft legislation as a 10-minute rule motion that would introduce a statute of limitations, imposing a time limit where action could be brought against British troops for their conduct during combat.

He suggested a 10-year time limit under his Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill.

“Terrorists who would otherwise be in prison walk free under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement,” Mr Benyon said.

“The person who slaughtered seven members of my battalion’s band, while they were playing to tourists in Regent’s Park, is known to the authorities, but he is not pursued.

“So why is Dennis Hutchings being pursued, and why are we now facing the possibility of potentially many more veterans receiving the knock on the door?”

Mr Benyon, a former minister, told the Commons that 90% of deaths in the Troubles were caused by terrorists, and there was no equivalence between them and security forces whose intention was to protect people.

He added that many feel the “on the runs” letters issued as part of the Good Friday Agreement “effectively give terrorists a statute of limitation”.

He also said that since the Iraq War an industry had emerged where “often dishonest lawyers” have used vast amounts of public money to bring cases against British troops.

“The abject failure of the allegations to stick shows how vile and corrupt the process became,” he said.

“My bill would bring to an end to what has become known as ‘lawfare’.

“Never again would dreadful individuals like Phil Shiner be able to line their pockets or the pockets of their legal firm with vast amounts of public funds whilst pursuing our veterans into old age.

“My bill ends this nonsense. With Op Banner ending 10 years ago, so will all pursuits of veterans into old age by a flawed and, some would argue, deeply prejudicial judicial system.”

The bill was listed for a second reading on June 15, but is unlikely to become law in its current form without government support or sufficient parliamentary time.