Johnny Mercer: Government must introduce legislation to stop prosecution of veterans who served in NI

Former defence minister Johnny Mercer has called on the Government to introduce legislation to end prosecutions of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 4:54 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 5:01 pm
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer outside Belfast Crown Court following the collapsed trial of two former soldiers. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

Speaking after verdict which saw two former soldiers acquitted over the murder of former Official IRA leader Joe McCann, he said: “I’m delighted for the soldiers who can now hopefully go and live the rest of their lives in peace.

“But the Government has made very clear promises, and the Prime Minister has made very clear promises, on legislation to end the relentless pursuit of those who served their country in Northern Ireland.

“It is time to deliver on that.”

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Supporters of the two soldiers pictured outside the court after the case collapsed. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Meanwhile, Philip Barden, the senior partner at Devonshires solicitors who represented soldiers A and C, has called for an “urgent independent review” of the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service’s handling of the case.

He said the firm made legal submissions back in 2016 making clear that the evidence from their clients would not be admissible.

“The stress of these proceedings on the soldiers and their families cannot be underestimated,” he said.

“For the last five years, the soldiers have fought hard to maintain their anonymity on the basis that they would face real and imminent risk to their lives and physical safety from terrorists, were their names to be published.”

He added: “This is a prosecution that should never have got off the ground. Before initiating the prosecution, the PPS had all the relevant information to conclude that the evidence was clearly inadmissible. Despite this, the prosecution proceeded. In so doing, the soldiers’ lives were placed at risk by a potential adverse anonymity decision, and having both served their country for over 20 years, they have spent five years of their retirement facing an entirely unjustified prosecution for murder nearly 50 years after the event.

“I call for an inquiry by a senior judge to investigate the decision-making process and to ensure that the decision to prosecute these veterans was not political. Justice must be seen to be done and we need to know why those directing historic prosecutions elevated Joe McCann’s case as a priority and didn’t focus on those many people who witnesses loved ones gunned down by terrorists.”