Prospect of amnesty for 200-plus Troubles troops

Posted By: February 18, 2017

Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, February 18, 2017

Talks on law change to shield British soldiers from justice over killings before a certain date

Gerald Howarth MP said he would welcome new legislation to protect former British soldiers.
More than 200 soldiers being investigated for unsolved Troubles killings may be set to benefit from a de facto amnesty, with the British government seeking to introduce special legislation which would place a statute of limitations on all future prosecutions.

The Conservative government is looking at ways to introduce a cut-off point on all Troubles killings in order to prevent any further prosecutorial decisions involving British soldiers, The Irish News understands.

Three former members of the British military are currently charged with offenses relating to their time on duty in Northern Ireland.

In December two retired members of the Parachute Regiment were told they were to be prosecuted for the murder of Official IRA commander Joe McCann in 1972.

Another former soldier, Dennis Hutchings, who is in his seventies and from Cornwall, has been charged with the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham (27). Mr. Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot in Co Tyrone in 1974.

Prosecutors are also considering files on the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings by soldiers in Derry.

Last month Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory took the unusual step of speaking out to defend his office’s decisions.

He said claims of bias from some English MPs were insulting to his office and its lawyers.

A legal source told The Irish News that although an amnesty could be legally possible in relation to all Troubles killings, it would require local political consent.

Sinn Féin has already said it would oppose any legacy deal that includes an amnesty for state forces. This leaves the British government considering a statute of limitations.

The PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch is reviewing more than 900 cases, of which 238 are attributed to the military.

Talks have taken place at Whitehall in recent weeks, with government lawyers already working on special legislation to protect former soldiers from prosecution by limiting the time in which cases can be pursued.

Some commentators have suggested a cut-off date to coincide with the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth, pictured, who has been outspoken in his condemnation of the decision to prosecute former British soldiers, calling it a “witchhunt,” confirmed that talks had taken place.

“I’m aware there are talks in Whitehall and that a statute of limitations is on the table,” he said.

“The soldiers and their families I speak to feel very let down. They believed each incident was dealt with at the time.”