May and Brokenshire must act on legacy scandal after June 8

Morning View
Morning View

An attempted murder charge against Dennis Hutchings, a former soldier, has been re-instated by prosecutors after it was dismissed earlier this year.

In a dramatic and controversial development, the Public Prosecution Service has over-turned a decision by District Judge Alan White that there was insufficient evidence to return Hutchings for trial for attempted murder.

Judge White said in Armagh Magistrates’ Court in March that he could “not see that any reasonable jury, properly directed, could find beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill the deceased as opposed to causing him grievous bodily harm”.

But prosecutors have decided he must face a trial for attempted murder. They have not answered our query on why this has happened, because the case is before the courts.

Even so, it his clear that there is a chronic problem with the approach that is being taken to the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles. How come no mainstream member of the Provisional IRA, the group that murdered almost 2,000 people, has faced serious terror charges in recent years, yet three soldiers face murder or attempted murder trials?

The wrong reaction to this latest development is to rush into a statute of limitations for former members of the security forces, which will in turn lead to an amnesty for terrorists and an implicit admission that the terrorists and the state were roughly equally guilty throughout the years of violence.

Instead, there needs to be a serious effort to find out why it is proving so difficult to get evidence against terrorists.

Theresa May and James Brokenshire, assuming a Conservative government is re-elected next month, need to act on the legacy imbalance that they have both described, and ignore the criticism from nationalists and Dublin.

They must instigate a formal investigation of the approach to legacy cases in Northern Ireland, so that we can all understand this scandal better and thus rectify it.