EXCL Head of the Armed Forces ‘uncomfortable’ about prospect of facing investigation under Troubles probe

Posted On: 
8th November 2018

The Head of the Armed Forces has said he is “uncomfortable” at the prospect of personally being investigated as part of the probe into killings during the Troubles.

General Sir Nick Carter became the Chief of the Defence Staff in June General Sir Nick Carter became the Chief of the Defence Staff in June
Credit: 
Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The Government launched a consultation in May on plans for a new Historical Investigations Unit to consider claims against former soldiers and terrorists who served in the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In an interview with The House magazine, General Sir Nick Carter, who served on multiple tours in Northern Ireland, revealed he could be investigated if the plans go ahead.

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“As a military officer who’s done multiple tours in Northern Ireland, I am uncomfortable with the prospect of being investigated. But this is a political issue and is, therefore, something that the politicians have to deal with. And of course, it’s associated with the peace process. Again, it’s a political issue,” he said.

The Chief of the Defence Staff said in August he would not allow British soldiers to be “chased” by people making false “vexatious claims” about their conduct during The Troubles.

He said that current and former military personnel should face action for genuine wrongdoing but pledged that groundless cases “will not happen on my watch”.

Proposals for a Historical Investigations Unit formed part of the 2014 Stormont House agreement and were designed to deal with killings where that had been no prosecutions. Some 150 Tory MPs and peers wrote to Theresa May in October asking her to drop plans for military personnel to be investigated.

‘NATIONAL CHALLENGE’

In his interview, General Carter revealed that he thinks of the people who died under his command in southern Afghanistan every day and said he has “experiences” from war that he “manages”.

He said helping veterans as they transition out of service is a “national challenge”.

“We have to acknowledge that one of the reasons why we are extraordinarily effective is because we develop brilliant teams. The team is the means through which individual servicemen and servicewomen can cope with extraordinary pressure and extraordinary stress and the demands of combat,” he told The House.

“The moment that that comes to an end and the team gets broken up and you leave service, you’re suddenly an individual. How we manage those individuals and how we provide them with the framework of security and understanding is a national challenge. That’s what we have to pick a path through.

“Now, we do that by having regimental associations and the RAF associations and the benevolence that comes through all that and the British population is remarkably generous with charity.

“But there’s still that awful moment when you as an individual have to go home and you haven’t got your mates around you and you will remember some of the things that you’ve done.

“I feel it myself. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of the 375 people who died under my command in southern Afghanistan in 2010. Not a day goes by. But I’m fortunate that I’ve got people I can talk to about it still.”

When asked if he seeks out support, he said: “You talk about it – it’s not about support – it’s about having the opportunity to talk normally about it.

“It’s about the team, and when you haven’t got the team around you it becomes more challenging. It’s just sharing that experience and being able to talk about it often in a rather political incorrect way probably, because that’s the way military service works.”

He added: “We’ve got to be really careful about how we label these things, because I don’t think if I looked a psychiatrist in the eye he would tell me I’ve got PTSD. But on the other hand, I’ve got experiences that I manage and that’s the same for all of us who have been at war.”

FUTURE THREATS

Elsewhere, General Carter warned about the danger posed by the rise of nationalism and populism

“From my perspective, this is one of those phenomenon’s that occurs from time to time. We saw it didn’t we at the beginning and the middle of the last century,” he said.

“It’s just something that we all need to be very careful about because to my mind, the greatest threat these days is a threat of inadvertent escalation which leads to miscalculation.

“Memories of war mercifully have faded, but of course that brings with it greater risks. When you end up with quite radical views of whatever spectrum of views they are, then that makes life more dangerous.”

He also called for the defence to be run as a “national enterprise” with collaboration between government and the private sector as seen during the Second World War.