Legal witch-hunt of Army veterans ‘will end soon’

Defence Secretary promises legal witch-hunt of Army veterans ‘will end soon’ as he proposes measures to stop those who fought in Northern Ireland and Iraq being dragged before judges

  • New laws could stop former troops being pursued through the courts
  • The Ministry of Defence has set up a new unit to find a workable solution
  • Gavin Williamson has said there is no ‘silver bullet’ that can solve the problem 

The legal witch-hunt of Army veterans is ‘very close’ to an end, the Defence Secretary believes.

Gavin Williamson is expected to propose new laws to stop the ‘absolute tragedy’ of former troops being pursued through the courts.

A unit set up in the Ministry of Defence to examine the issue has found a workable solution, he signalled yesterday.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured above) has said the witch hunt is close to an end

Mr Williamson said there was no ‘silver bullet’ that could solve the problem. Instead, a combination of measures will be considered.

It is understood the solution will not include a statute of limitations – or time limit – on charges being brought, which has previously been proposed.

The Government is thought instead to be looking at raising the threshold for prosecution and strengthening presumption of innocence.

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Mr Williamson 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 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 Government is thought to be looking at raising the threshold for prosecution and strengthening presumption of innocence for troops

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has sparked anger by re-examining every Army killing between 1968 and 1998. 

Hundreds of former soldiers – many now in their 70s and 80s – are potential murder or manslaughter suspects over their actions during the Troubles.

Mr Williamson said these veterans ‘end up seeing the State as the thing chasing them’.

There have been warnings that Britain’s fighting spirit could be undermined by vexatious claims over the historic deaths of IRA suspects at the hands of soldiers.

A unit set up in the Ministry of Defence to examine the issue has found a workable solution for troops

Separately, in 2010, a unit called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) was set up to investigate claims of murder, torture and wrongdoing by British troops.

Over seven years some 3,668 claims were made, costing the taxpayer £60million – but not one resulted in prosecution.

Mr Williamson said that new measures would help Northern Ireland veterans but also those who served in ‘conflicts that have gone on since then, and also conflicts in the future’.

He added: ‘We are often asking our service personnel to do the things that few other people would be either willing or capable of doing. 

‘It is really important that we look at how we provide those service personnel with protections.’

The Defence Secretary also announced yesterday that all soldiers will soon be able to use cyber weapons on the battlefield, saying: ‘It is just going to be another weapon that they can use every single day.’

Army chief calls for Northern Ireland military hero’s name to be cleared before he dies after 91-year-old was sued over 1973 Troubles murder

THE head of the Armed Forces yesterday said it would be a ‘tragedy’ if his military hero was to die before his name is cleared.

General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, was speaking about 91-year-old General Sir Frank Kitson. Sir Frank was a commander in Ulster during the Troubles, and was awarded a CBE for his ‘gallant’ service there.

But in 2015 he was told he was being sued over the murder of Patrick Eugene Heenan, a Roman Catholic killed by loyalists in 1973. The civil action was put forward by the dead man’s family but Sir Frank has said he was not even in the country when he died.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter (pictured above)

Sir Nick said: ‘One of my military heroes … is Sir Frank. It would be tragic if he were to pass without his name being cleared.’

Sir Frank served in Oman, Malaya, and in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising, for which he won the Military Cross in 1955. He was in charge of UK land forces from 1982 to 1985.

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