Reprehensible naming of soldiers must be punished

News Letter editorial of Thursday August 5 2021:

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 6:58 am
News Letter editorial

T he revelation that a website has published what it purports to be the names of former soldiers whose identities are protected by court order is profoundly serious.

Judges had given anonymity to military veterans involved in Troubles killings recently examined by the Ballymurphy inquests and in the notorious events of Bloody Sunday. Such an order restricting publicity is not uncommon if a court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice (in cases involving allegations of a sexual nature there is automatic anonymity for the accused if naming them would identify their victim) or because it is necessary to protect life.

As recently as two months ago, a court upheld the anonymity order banning the identification of ‘Soldier F’ – who shot several of those killed on Bloody Sunday – after being told that he would be a “prime target for anyone seeking vengeance for the terrible events of Bloody Sunday”.

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Last month SDLP leader Colum Eastwood disregarded that order and named the soldier in the House of Commons where parliamentary privilege protects him from the legal consequences of what would otherwise be contempt of court.

That was a regrettable and ill-considered move by Mr Eastwood, and may have emboldened those who have now published what they say are the names of further soldiers granted anonymity by judges who have carefully weighed the evidence.

Whoever is behind this has acted in a reprehensible and dangerous fashion and must be brought to open court to explain their actions.

There is a growing perception across a section of unionism that the justice system has become skewed in favour of republicans. The police and the Attorney General acting with alacrity here will be important not just in addressing that concern, but in demonstrating that the apparent anonymity of the internet cannot defeat the justice system.

If that does not happen, it would be an acceptance that court orders are worthless and that the mob rules.

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