DUP, UUP, TUV on legacy: Terrorists escape court yet old soldiers are put in dock
The leaders of the three unionist parties here outline their reaction to the death of the veteran Dennis Hutchings while on trial for a 1974 killing, and what it says about how the legacy of the Troubles has been handled.
• First the DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is a former UDR soldier:
When Dennis Hutchings passed away in the Mater Hospital on Monday he was far from his family home in Cornwall.
Whilst Dennis had recently contracted Covid-19, there were already questions about why an 80 year old man with kidney disease, heart failure and fluid on the lung was standing trial in a case which had already been previously investigated.
Of course no-one is above the law but countless families who suffered at the hands of terrorism have not even seen their case receive a proper initial investigation whilst an unrelenting torrent of legal action is unleashed against soldiers in cases where they have already been investigated and cleared, sometimes on multiple occasions.
Whilst terrorist suspects have been identified in some cases, yet not even been questioned, a great-grandfather previously given six months to live spent his final days under the scrutiny of a court.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) which has sought to justify this decision is of course the same body which recently attempted to take forward the prosecution of veterans based on evidence they should have known was inadmissible.
The disparity is clear and obvious and highlights a motivation by some in our society that is more about rewriting history than securing justice.
• Doug Beattie MC MLA, Ulster Unionist leader:
The entire legacy process has been a succession of mistakes and poor decisions which have culminated in the death of a British Army veteran, Dennis Hutchings.
We believe in the rule of law, but for it to work effectively, it must be applied equally and that has clearly not been the case.
Terrorist gangs were responsible for 90 per cent of Troubles related deaths, all illegal.
Yet literally hundreds of convicted terrorists and terrorist suspects have been able to avail of early release, letters of comfort and Royal Pardons.
The destruction of decommissioned terrorist weaponry ensured that opportunities to recover forensic evidence were lost.
Former terrorists have proved adept at avoiding courts as the focus has shifted to former soldiers and police officers.
In January 2016 I wrote to the PPS raising concerns about Dennis Hutchings’ case and how all eight of the Section 35(5) of the Justice Act 2002 Legacy case referrals related to actions by the Military or Police.
We have long been warning that what we are witnessing is nothing less than the rewriting of history, parading former soldiers and police officers through the courts to feed the false narrative that the IRA was fighting ‘a just war’ all financed by lawfare.
Whatever this is, it is not justice.
• Jim Allister QC MLA, TUV leader:
The sad end of an old soldier has thrown into stark focus the imbalance in the justice system.
Dennis Hutchings was dragged from his home in Cornwall while clearly not a well man in a witch hunt.
Our Director of Public Prosecution should be considering his position.
I heard nothing which suggested to me that there was a likelihood of conviction.
How did we get here?
When you place victim makers in government and establish a system which doesn’t allow a government unless they are at the heart of government it should be no surprise that the losers are innocent victims and security force veterans.
The justice system has been perverted repeatedly – the prison doors were opened in 1998, On The Run letters were issued to wanted terrorists, funerals of terrorist godfathers were exempt from the Covid restrictions which applied to the rest of us, etc.
Shamefully Her Majesty’s Government appears to have so little interest in either defending the proud reputation of its forces in Northern Ireland or bringing real criminals to justice.
But we would be kidding ourselves if we ignored the fact that the process of the last 25 years has brought us to this point.
• News Letter editorial: Hutchings died aged 80, on trial yet IRA leaders have escaped justice
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