New law may protect OAP soldiers from prosecution

James Brokenshire said a proportionate approach needed to be taken on legacy investigations
James Brokenshire said a proportionate approach needed to be taken on legacy investigations

Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP have both lent credibility to reports that a law is under discussion within government which would protect elderly soldiers from facing prosecution for their actions while serving during the Troubles.

Three elderly English soldiers are currently facing prosecution for their actions here in the early 1970s, which has caused obvious anger at Westminster and prompted reports from the Daily Mail and The Sun that a new law is in under discussion to protect them.

Sir Jeffrey told the News Letter: “As I understand it, this proposal is only at discussion stage within the government and we haven’t yet been given any indication as to if and when such legislation might be forthcoming.

“There is growing support for such an initiative at Westminster and I have had a lot of positive feedback from Conservative MPs following the recent debate in Parliament.”

On Friday’s Inside Politics on Radio Ulster, Mark Devenport put it to Mr Brokenshire that ministers are considering the new law to bring proportionality to Troubles investigations.

There are also reports, he said, the plans might involve an upper age limit on who could be investigated, a five-year time limit on inquiries, and a requirement that 90% of state legacy investigation funds must be focused on terror groups, as they claimed 90% of lives.

Mr Brokenshire replied: “I don’t recognise some of the speculation that we have seen in different press outlets over recent weeks but if you look at what was said in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) it underlined that sense of proportionality, of greater equity, in the manner in which investigations are conducted.” A time limit for dealing with the past is also embodied in the SHA, he said.

There are service personnel who feel they are the focus of attention, he said, underlining that he has concerns that “the current system means that greater focus is given to state-based cases than others”.

There are also service personnel families, he said, whose loved ones were murdered during the Troubles and “who aren’t getting answers”. Therefore we need to move forward with the “proportionate” approach of the SHA, he added.