Gavin Williamson vows to end legal ‘witch-hunt’ against ex-soldiers
Gavin Williamson has vowed to end the "witch-hunt" against ex-soldiers facing vindictive prosecutions.
The Defence Secretary said he would consider bringing in new legislation in the “the very near future” to help former British soldiers being pursued through the courts for their actions during conflicts.
Mr Williamson announced on Monday that the Ministry of Defence had set up a new legal unit tasked with investigating the issue and providing better protections for veterans who served in Iraq and Northern Ireland.
Since 2010, £60 million has been spent by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team to investigate 3,668 claims against British troops, but none resulted in prosecution.
Mr Williamson, who has previously described the cases against ex-servicemen as a “witch-hunt”, said he hoped the new protections would help remove the “worry and trauma”.
He said: “I have no doubt that in the very near future we are going to be in a situation where we can put things in place – and this will require legislation to do – but we can start to put the things in place that end this absolute tragedy of British service personnel being chased through the courts.
“The thing that I just know in my heart and soul that is fundamentally so incredibly wrong is the fact that we continue to have so many ex-servicemen who continue to be in a situation where they are facing persecution."
It is believed the new legal unit will look at possible solutions, including strengthening the presumption of innocence for troops and raising the legal threshold for prosecution.
But it will not include previously suggested proposals to introduce a statute of limitations on charges being brought.
Mr Williamson added: “It is the thing I have constantly thought we need to find a solution for. And this is what we have been working towards.
“We think we are very close to landing a position where we can make those important steps forward in terms of finding a solution and making sure former and serving personnel will not go through the strain, the worry and the trauma of fearing a knock on their door.”
The move comes days after the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced that they would be re-examining every killing by the British Army between 1968 and 1998.
The investigation means a swathe of new cases could be brought against veterans – many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s.
In May, Theresa May hit out at the “patently unfair” process which has seen British troops taken to court over military action from decades ago.
She said: “The only people being investigated for these issues are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland.
“That is patently unfair, terrorists are not even being investigated.”