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Tue, 2 June 2020

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Ministers vow new body will end 'cycle of re-investigations' for Troubles veterans

Ministers vow new body will end 'cycle of re-investigations' for Troubles veterans

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis

3 min read

The Government has unveiled its plans for an new independent body to probe unresolved deaths that took place during the Troubles amid pressure from Conservative MPs to ditch the prosecution of Army veterans.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the new body would "put an end to repeated re-investigations" of Armed Services personnel who served during the decades-long conflict.

Tory backbenchers have long expressed anger at the Historical Investigations Unit, which formed a key part of the 2014 Stormont House agreement between the British and Irish governments. 

The unit has probed allegations of misconduct by service personnel as well as unsolved criminal cases, but MPs have accused it of subjecting those who served during the Troubles to vexatious claims.

Ministers said the new body, which comes after a fresh Northern Ireland power-sharing deal was struck earlier this year, would seek to break a "cycle of re-investigations that has failed victims and veterans for too long".

Mr Lewis said: "Victims who suffered unimaginable pain as a result of the Troubles are at the heart of our approach to help Northern Ireland move on from its past towards a brighter future.

"I hope that by giving as many families as possible information on how their loved ones lost their lives, we can help ease the difficult process of reconciliation."

He added: "We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces for their service in Northern Ireland. That’s why these proposals also put an end to repeated reinvestigations where there is no new compelling evidence and deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims."

The Northern Ireland Office said the new body would focus on providing information to families and "swift examinations of all unresolved deaths from the Troubles".

The body would, it promised, "conduct swift, final examinations of all the unresolved deaths" - with only cases "where there is new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution" investigated.

The NI Office added: "Once cases have been considered there will be a legal bar on any future investigation occurring." 

The proposals will now be the subject of what the Government said would be an "an intensive period of engagement" with the Northern Ireland political parties as well as the Irish government.

The plans come after separate moves by ministers to impose curbs on the prosecution of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

According to The Sun, only complaints containing "new and compelling" evidence will be pursued after a five-year period elapses.

Veterans minister and former Army officer Johnny Mercer said: “The days of lawyers re-writing history in order to make money off the backs of veterans are over.

“This Government is going to war on so called ‘lawfare’, and this is just the start.”

The Conservative manifesto vowed to bring in new legislation to "tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces".

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