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Northern Ireland news

PPS defends independence following claims in parliament

Sir Gerald Howarth MP used parliamentary privilege to make claims against Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory

THE Public Prosecution Service has defended decisions to pursue charges against soldiers in Troubles cases, insisting it applies the law "without fear, favour or prejudice".

Barra McGrory's office was responding to comments made under parliamentary privilege yesterday by former Conservative minister Sir Gerald Howarth.

Two former members of the Parachute Regiment have been charged with the 1972 murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in the Markets area of Belfast.

Another ex-soldier, Dennis Hutchings (75) from Cornwall, has been accused of the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham (27) in Co Tyrone in 1974.

Speaking during a statement from Secretary of State James Brokenshire on the crisis at Stormont, Mr Howarth described Mr McGrory as "Sinn-Fein supporting" and accused him of attempting to "muzzle Parliament".

He claimed a notice issued to the media warning against questioning the impartiality of prosecutors amounted to an attempt to "question the right of this House to support those soldiers who sought to bring about peace in Northern Ireland".

Addressing the secretary of state, Mr Howarth said; "To the extent that you have a locus in this matter, may I make a really fervent plea to you that you should protect the interests of former British soldiers currently being charged by the Sinn Féin-supporting director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland with murder for an offence which took place over 40 years ago".

Mr Brokenshire responded by saying he "will not comment on any individual decisions and, indeed, justice is devolved in Northern Ireland but also it is independent and has its own processes that remain in place in an independent way".

"I hear very clearly the very general and very firm point that you make in relation to balance within the overall system and that is something that I am very keen to address," he added.

A spokesperson for the PPS responded to the comments by saying: "The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland is wholly independent of all political parties and the political system. As such, we would never seek to influence political debate on any subject in any way.

"Equally, we must take all appropriate steps to ensure that our decision-making processes are protected from political influence from any source.

"We are aware of Mr Howarth's political viewpoint in relation to the prosecution of cases involving soldiers, which is not enshrined in law in the UK.

"The Public Prosecution Service only applies the law as it currently stands in Northern Ireland and does so without fear, favour or prejudice."

Northern Ireland news
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