A Conservative former defence minister has raised concerns over the arrest of a former member of the Parachute Regiment on duty in Londonderry on January 30 1972, branding it “wrong”.
Asking an urgent question on the issue in the Commons, Sir Gerald Howarth spoke about the events of Bloody Sunday, saying: “These soldiers of the Crown were not hired killers, they were seeking to do their duty to their country in a filthy civil war where the enemy was dressed in civilian clothes indistinguishable from the local population.”
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office Ben Wallace said that criminal investigations and prosecutions were a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities who are “independent and act independently of Government”.
Sir Gerald said that 43 years after the events and three years after the PSNI first started their further investigations, a soldier, soldier J from the Parachute Regiment who was in his early 20s, but is now in his late 60s, “is faced with possible prosecution for murder with a prospect of further arrests to follow”.
He said: “For two reasons I submit that this is wrong. First, what national interest is served in bringing these cases to court. The Saville inquiry found there was no premeditation to murder in the minds of those young soldiers.”
He added: “I submit that it is immoral for the state to seek nearly half a century after the event to put these men on trial whilst others who deployed their bombs and bullets in the shadows are now in Government or have received Royal pardons, an act of Government not of the courts. I urge my honourable friend to exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy with immediate effect.”
Mr Wallace said: “Whether the current investigations will lead to criminal prosecution is a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland.
“But we shouldn’t forget that the British Army is not above the law and nor should it be.”
Richard Drax, Tory MP for South Dorset, said the perception among many people is that “our British soldiers are hounded while those who murdered and killed become politicians”.
Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist MP for North Antrim, offered a similar sentiment. “The double standards in this affair are palpable for all to see,” he said.