Theresa May urged to end '˜legal scapegoating' of former soldiers

A former defence minister has called on the prime minister to end the 'legal scapegoating' of military veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

Conservative MP Mark Francois urged Theresa May to protect armed forces veterans from being unfairly prosecuted for alleged historic offences during the Troubles .

Highlighting the upcoming centenary of the end of the First World War in the House of Commons, the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford said: “Wouldn’t that be a fitting time to end another burning injustice, namely the legal scapegoating of brave Army veterans by others for political or financial gain”.

Mr Francois was one of scores of Tory MPs who signed a letter to the prime minister last week calling for the end to investigations of soldiers who served in NI during the Troubles.

Theresa May during Prime Ministers Questions in the Commons

Mentioning the letter in the Commons, which urged the PM to “defend those who defended us”, he asked Mrs May: “Are you with us?”

The prime minister said she recognised the passion with which the ex-armed forces minister has “championed the interests of our brave solders”.

She added that the government was committed to making sure all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland are investigated in a way that is “fair, balanced and proportionate”, adding that is not happening under the current system.

“There is a disproportionate focus of former members of the armed forces and the police,” the PM added.

“We owe so much to them across so many different areas and fronts for their heroism and bravery, and for everything they have done to maintain our freedom.”

NI Secretary Karen Bradley was also quizzed over the public consultation on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, which concluded last month.

Tory MP Sheryll Murray said: “The witch hunt against our brave veterans is unacceptable.

“When will the government stop consulting and bring an end to these ridiculous cases?”

Mrs Bradley said the NI Office is now reviewing the responses – more than 17,000 in total – received to the consultation and will set out “in due course” how it intends to respond.

She added: “We all owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law during the Troubles in NI.

“The system is not working well for anyone and that is why we have consulted on how we can improve it as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, the secretary of state was also asked in the Commons what steps she had taken to seek closure for victims of the IRA and INLA during the Troubles.

DUP MP Jim Shannon said victims of these terrorist groups in NI “deserve recognition”.

He asked the secretary of state what discussions she has had with police to set aside money to allow investigations into those killings to take place.

Mrs Bradley responded: “The PSNI is investigating through its legacy investigations unit far too many Troubles-related crimes, proportionately more related to the military and RUC.

“That is not right and that is why we want to change this system. “