It is unfair to prosecute British soldiers for their conduct during the Troubles unless fresh evidence is uncovered relating to their cases, a former senior army officer has said.
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan who completed eight tours in Northern Ireland, was speaking to the News Letter after the Public Prosecution Service announced it was to prosecute David Holden, an 18-year-old soldier who shot 23-year-old Aidan McAnespie at a checkpoint in Aughnacloy in 1988.
Mr Holden claimed it was an accident and that his wet fingers slipped on the trigger of his weapon. He was charged with manslaughter in 1988 but the charge was later dropped. The Historical Enquiries Team later concluded that his explanation was the “least likely version” of events.
It is understood the decision to prosecute now hinged on the findings of a fresh ballistics report commissioned by the PPS.
Col Kemp said he was concerned about the number of soldiers being prosecuted in relation to the Troubles.
“In many cases they were found to be not guilty and now with no additional evidence they are being reinvestigated and recharged,” he said. “That has got to be wrong.”
“It would be an entirely different matter if there was a criminal case where a fresh DNA evidence became available, for example.
“But what we are seeing now appears to be due to changes in light of today’s political thinking.
“If soldiers are being reinvestigated after 30 or 40 years when they were found to have no case to answer at the time, then it is not for them to be dealt with in court - it is for those who dealt with their cases at the time.
“It is obvious some soldiers do some wrong things of course but there is a very clear difference between them and terrorists. Soldiers set out to uphold the law whereas terrorists set out to maim and murder. They should be treated differently.”
The British government is “weak” and is being “dragged along” in part due to a policy of “appeasement” of republicans over Brexit, he said.
He compared the situation in Northern Ireland with British military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent legal actions.
“We saw thousands of soldiers accused of war crimes and the government allowed them to be dragged into court to appease those opposed to us.”
The stress caused the break up many marriages and suicides among the soldiers, he said. “In the event only a handful were found to have a case to answer.”
He says Sinn Fein threatened to walk out of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations if demands similar to those they were making for republicans were also extended to soldiers; for example early release from prison and a maximum jail sentence of two years any any subsequent convictions.
“I am pretty confident because I got this information from people that were closely involved in the talks,” he said.