DUP: “ANCHE I SOLDATI DOVREBBERO AVERE L’IMMUNITÀ”
Ministers under pressure to give same protection against prosecution to Bloody Sunday soldiers as alleged IRA killers
Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party MP, said British soldiers involved in the Troubles should now be given similar assurances to John Downey
British soldiers at risk of prosecution over Bloody Sunday should be granted the same amnesty secretly given to IRA terror suspects, politicians and former military leaders have said.
Prosecuting British troops for their role in the killings would be an “outrage” and “betrayal” after it emerged more than 180 alleged IRA members on the run were granted “get out of jail free” cards as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
The extent of the amnesties given to fugitives emerged earlier this week as an Old Bailey judge threw out the prosecution of John Downey, who faced four murder charges for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.
He was able to walk free because of a “monumental” police blunder that saw him mistakenly sent a so-called “comfort letter”, which said suspects were no longer wanted by police.
Military leaders and politicians said troops should now be given similar assurances.
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, a former head of the Army, described the decision to drop the case against Mr Downey was “disappointing and distressing”.
It would now be “an outrage” if a prosecution were mounted against the Bloody Sunday troops.
He said: “If a double line has been drawn under this for one set of people, then of course a double line should be drawn under this for the British soldiers.”
Gen Sir Mike Jackson, who was serving with the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday and went on to be head of the Army, said: “It does seem, on the grounds of fairness, that all should be treated equally and I thought that was the intent of the Good Friday Agreement.
Col Richard Kemp, who served eight tours in Northern Ireland, said: “It would be entirely wrong to try troops accused of murder or unlawful killing when the terrorists have effectively been given a get out of jail free card.
“We are not even comparing like with like. We are looking at one set of people who went out to commit cold blooded murder and another group who were doing their duty and got things wrong in very difficult circumstances.”
British soldiers of the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 civilians during a civil rights march in Londonderry in January 1972. Another died five months later from injuries sustained on the day.
The 12-year-long, £191 million Saville inquiry concluded the killings had been “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Senior officers were criticised for sending “aggressive” paratroopers into the Bogside area.
It found however there was no conspiracy by the British or Northern Ireland governments, or the military, to cause a confrontation with the nationalist community on the day of the shootings.
Instead, it blamed the 10 minutes of chaos on 20 individual paratroopers who “lost their self-control”.
Dozens of paratroopers, now in their 60s and 70s, gave evidence to Lord Saville. All were told their testimony could not be used to prosecute them, but they were not given blanket immunity.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party MP, said: “There is no way that the British public would accept a situation where British soldiers were hauled before the court to answer charges for alleged offences committed back in 1972 while at the same time there is an amnesty for suspect IRA terrorists.”
John Baron MP, a former Army Officer and now MP for Basildon and Billericay, said: “It is fundamentally wrong that suspected terrorists are given amnesty at the same time the Northern Ireland Office is advertising for witnesses to the Bloody Sunday incident with a view to prosecuting former soldiers. For peace and reconciliation to be lasting, there has to be balance to our dealings.”