Last week, along with a number of colleagues and former defense personnel, I helped deliver a letter to the Prime Minister. The letter called on the Prime Minister to prevent the legal persecution of veterans. We were motivated to act because we all witnessed, with horror, the persecution of veterans under IHAT, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team and how the system was abused. Now new proposed legislation “Addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past” threatens to put our service and security personnel at an exceptional ‘disadvantage.’
As a former Minister in Northern Ireland I know how divisive the Troubles were. Indeed, still are. But let’s remember that during this time some 300,000 servicemen from the UK served there. Terrorists killed 722 and injured 6,100 servicemen, 3,600 civilians were also killed. What we are now demanding is that any new proposal must be, “Balanced, Fair, Equitable and Proportionate” and totally “Transparent.” The present system is totally unbalanced with over 500 terrorists out on licence, over 200 letters of comfort and some 16 Royal pardons in existence, and yet 90% of deaths during the Troubles were caused by terrorists.
So, if new Legacy enquiries are to go ahead they must not just be restricted to those crimes that led to death, but also to all those that led to injury. Forty-seven thousand service and civilian personnel were injured during this time of which 299 were killed by the British army. And let’s not forget some 15,000 terrorist bombings. There must be no equivalence between terrorist actions and those taken by the security services at any time and it must always be made clear that the forces of the state were there to protect civilians and to keep the peace. In the current proposals the word ‘terrorism’ does not feature anywhere and it seems the action of illegal and unlawful terror gangs are being made equal to those of the lawful state forces. An attempt to rewrite history to liken the actions of the state to those of the terrorist is being made.
A number of veterans live amongst us in East Devon. I have met with them on a number of occasions. Many are suffering long term mental health problems arising out of incidents they were involved in or scenes they witnessed many years ago in Northern Ireland, the Falklands or Iraq. Some are terrified at the prospect of being summoned back to court. Most have only a fogged recollection of the incidents they are now being asked to remember in sharp detail. Surely, we owe them better than this? Critics will say we are asking for different treatment for our Armed Forces. We are not. We are asking for the same treatment for all. It is blatantly obvious that the current process of investigating and reinvestigating veterans, for incidents which were all investigated at the time is completely at odds with the Government’s Manifesto commitments in the Armed Forces Covenant. We therefore believe that this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue as it is.
Now is the time for us to stand up for them, as they once stood up for us.