Government’s amnesty plan is the ultimate betrayal of the sacrifices made by NI’s people

I and everyone else I knew who served in the security forces sought to defend democracy and uphold the rule of law.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 6:38 am
Paul Kernaghan is a former member of the UDR and a former chief constable of Hampshire police.

We were repeatedly told by politicians, of all parties, that terrorists were criminals and would be held to account by the criminal justice process.

Sadly, the commitment of politicians to justice was obviously somewhat more flexible than was that of security force personnel.

All criminals should answer to the courts for their crimes be they suspected terrorists or members of the security forces.

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The political problem which appears to have prompted the Secretary of State’s latest policy proposal, is that of vexatious prosecutions against security force veterans, decades after their alleged offences.

If those prosecutions were in fact vexatious then surely the answer is reform of the prosecution function.

If, for example, the Director of Public Prosecutions prioritises one case against another, not least by a direction to the chief constable, then that decision should be publicly known, supported by his or her rationale.

It might also be helpful if the ‘conflict of interest policy’ adopted by various investigatory bodies was also applied to all elements of the criminal justice system.

The Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis laments the lack of successful criminal justice outcomes.

For my part I would remind him that a conviction is not the only successful outcome.

If a person is found not guilty or the safeguards inherent in our system are invoked to protect an individual’s rights, then that too can be seen as a successful outcome. It is not the role of a prosecutor to secure a conviction, rather it is their job to ensure that all the facts are properly set out before the court.

Every deviation to date from our established and once cherished system of criminal justice has undermined public confidence.

The early release of mass murderers, token imprisonment of others and not least the covert ‘letters of comfort’ to terrorists, have given rise to the not entirely unwarranted claim that the system is biased.

All security force veterans want is a system which is objective, professional, finite and free of political considerations.

There is no case whatsoever for a policy which will be seen by many to equate the actions of security force personnel with those of terrorists dedicated to campaigns of murder and mayhem.

The platitudes about information recovery and reconciliation are just that, platitudes.

I fully accept that few new convictions will be secured arising from the ‘Troubles’ but the proposed policy is tantamount to saying that because terrorists have successfully hidden their tracks through a policy of omerta, reinforced by ongoing intimidation, then we should just meekly abandon the criminal justice system.

That surely would be the ultimate betrayal of the sacrifices made by the security forces and, indeed, those of the wider population to resist terrorism through the rule of law.

l Paul Kernaghan is a former member of the UDR and a former chief constable of Hampshire police.

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