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Sat, 4 April 2020

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Tory MP Johnny Mercer accuses Theresa May of 'betraying' Troubles veterans over leaked memo

Tory MP Johnny Mercer accuses Theresa May of 'betraying' Troubles veterans over leaked memo
3 min read

Theresa May has been accused of a "betrayal" of Northern Ireland veterans as a leaked memo suggested she personally intervened to stop ministers drawing up a new law to shield them from prosecutions.


Tory MP Johnny Mercer said a private letter sent on the Prime Minister's behalf - obtained by the Sunday Telegraph - "turns my stomach".

The document, reportedly drawn up by Mrs May's assistant private secretary, says a government consultation aimed at addressing unsolved murders during the decades-long conflict in Ulster "should not contain" a statute of limitations curbing prosecutions of ex-service personnel.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, it also says veterans should be offered "equal, rather than preferential, treatment" relative to other groups covered by the plan to investigate historical killings.

Mr Mercer, who has already announced that he will not vote with the Government in protest at the plan, said: "This equivocation with those who got up in the morning specifically to murder innocent civilians turns my stomach."

And he added: "Personally, I don’t think a statute of limitations in isolation is appropriate or achievable - there can be no time limit to new and compelling evidence of law-breaking.

"But ruling it out entirely demonstrates an unwillingness to explore options from a PM who, in public at least, claims total commitment to ending this process.

"For me, the historical allegations process has always been the most distasteful symptom of a political class that has adopted a tokenistic and utterly hollow approach to defence for too long.

"Inauthenticity towards our Armed Forces is diametrically opposed where we should be on defence as a modern Conservative Party."

Setting up the Historical Investigations Unit  was a key part of the 2014 Stormont House agreement between the British and Irish governments, with the team looking into allegations of misconduct by service personnel as well as unsolved criminal cases.

Last year the Police Service of Northern Ireland said there were still more than 1,000 unexplained deaths stemming from the Troubles.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the official memo - dated March 2018 - said Mrs May backed action “against any person who was operating outside of the parameters of the law” during the Troubles.

And it stated: "The Prime Minister has decided that the consultation document should not contain specific reference to a ‘statute of limitations’ or ‘amnesties’, in line with government policy."

'SEPARATE CONSULTATION'

The fresh row came after newly-appointed Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced plans to limit prosecutions of troops who have served overseas - and said she would also personally back extending the new law to include veterans of the Troubles.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Ministry of Defence have proposed legislation to provide better support and stronger legal protections for serving and former personnel facing investigation over alleged historical offences overseas.

“This will ensure veterans are not subject to repeated investigations many years after the events in question where there is no new evidence. A separate consultation has been run by Northern Ireland Office on how to deal with the past in Northern Ireland.”

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