A retired British Army officer has spoken out strongly against the prosecution of former soldiers over events during the Troubles.
Colonel Richard Kemp, who served in Northern Ireland as well as during conflicts in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, accused the government of having “caved to the pressure” by allowing the prosecutions to proceed.
He made those comments in an interview with the News Letter, following an announcement on Monday by the Public Prosecution Service that a former soldier – identified only as ‘Soldier B’ – is to be brought before the courts for the murder of a child in Londonderry in 1972.
Daniel Hegarty was 15-years-old when he was shot twice in the head in the Creggan area of the city by by a member of an Army patrol on duty during Operation Motorman.
Colonel Kemp, who was wounded in a mortar attack in Co Armagh, said it is “wrong” to prosecute soldiers when “IRA terrorists and other terrorists are being given Royal pardons, letters of comfort and early release”.
He continued: “To me it seems wrong for soldiers to be treated worse than terrorists. Soldiers went out to save lives and protect the public. Yes, occasionally things went wrong and sometimes very badly wrong – such as Daniel Hegarty, although I don’t know the specifics of what happened in that case.
“The reality is that wasn’t their intent. They didn’t go out with the intention of murder, whereas terrorists who are being treated a great deal better set out with one intention which was to murder, maim and destroy.
“It is wrong that they should be given better treatment than the soldiers.”
The retired officer, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, continued: “To my mind, this whole process has come about as a result of pressure from Sinn Fein. The government has caved to the pressure and agreed to have these historic investigations take place in order to appease Sinn Fein, to keep them on side.
“Sinn Fein’s intent is pretty clear – to rewrite history. They very evidently want to rewrite history. They want IRA terrorists to be seen as freedom fighters and they want British troops and the Royal Ulster Constabulary to be seen as oppressors of the people. That’s what they are working towards and, actually, to some extent they are succeeding.”
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney accused Colonel Kemp of having “added to the distress and hurt” of the Hegarty family.
He described Mr Kemp’s comments as “indicative of the attitude of the British state towards dealing with the legacy of the conflict”.