Minister breaks ranks with call for Government to reconsider bringing end to Troubles veterans' probes

Posted On: 
3rd June 2018

A senior defence minister has publicly urged the Government to reconsider bringing forward a statute of limitations for ex-servicemen, despite it being left out of a major consultation draft.

British troops on patrol in Belfast in 1973
PA Images

Veterans minister Tobias Ellwood said he would use the forthcoming Government consultation into legacy issues on the Northern Ireland Troubles to push for a halt to prosecutions against former troops.

The Northern Ireland Office circulated a draft consultation document in May, which did not include such a move, prompting criticism from some MPs and reports of Cabinet disagreement.

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The former soldier told 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics he hoped ministers would use “common sense” when many were still “haunted” by the fear of being prosecuted.

“I served in Northern Ireland, I was on operations, I knocked over a few milk bottles when I was there to put it lightly...

“I don’t want somebody knocking on my door, I don’t want anybody asking for any members of my platoon that I served with to be asked questions on something that happened so many years ago…”

When asked directly if there should be a statute of limitations, which could act as an effective amnesty for those who served during the conflict, Mr Elwood said he would "personally" like it to be considered.

“It does make sense to draw a line at some point to say that investigations have taken place to their conclusion, and unless there is compelling evidence put forward to a very high court, that we then close the books on that particular matter," he said.

"However there is a consultation taking place, these arguments will be put into that consultation and I hope common sense will then prevail."

Mr Ellwood said the proposal could be "widened" and extend to those who served in Iraq.

Theresa May described the Northern Ireland situation as “unfair” last month, in which "the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement".

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has previously warned against a “witch hunt” of former service personnel, but stopped short of calling for an outright end to prosecutions.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley insisted last month that there was "no support" in the province for a "Northern Ireland-only statute of limitations".

When challenged on whether he could retain his ministerial post despite speaking out against Government policy, Mr Ellwood insisted he was able to submit his own thoughts on the issue to the consultation.