British army chief should 'give evidence of vexatious claims' against ex-soldiers
THE new head of Britain's armed forces should provide evidence of what he called "vexatious claims" against former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin has said.
General Sir Nick Carter claimed yesterday that the British army had done a "remarkable job" in the north.
Speaking at a media briefing, he said it was "right and proper that if our soldiers have done something wrong then they should clearly be investigated".
He added: "What is fundamentally wrong though is if they're chased by people who are making vexatious claims - and that will not happen on my watch".
Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MLA Linda Dillon said Sir Nick's comments were insulting to families of victims of the Troubles.
"I would call on the British Chief of the Defence Staff to provide evidence of any such 'vexatious claims'," she said.
"These comments are extremely insulting and will provide further hurt to families and victims of the conflict some of whom have waited over 40 years for closure by way of an Article 2 investigation or inquest or the timely provision of disclosure in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones."
She called on Sir Nick to meet "the families in order to understand the hurt such claims make".
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However, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie welcomed Sir Nick's comment that soldiers who had broken the law should be investigated.
"This is of great importance to me as a soldier, because I signed up to join the lawful army of my country, to uphold the laws passed by Parliament and to adhere to both military discipline and the civil law," he said.
"Where individuals – whether soldiers or civilians - have broken the law, then they should be made amenable to the law."
Mr Beattie claimed that there was an "imbalance" in how former members of the security forces have been treated compared to ex-paramilitaries.
"Terrorists have been able to avail of early release from prison, Royal Prerogatives of Mercy or Royal Pardons, and over 200 ‘letters of comfort’ by the Blair Government," he said.
"Too many people have lost sight of the fact that 99 per cent of victims during the Troubles were due to terrorist action, and just 1 per cent of the 47,000 victims were due to the police or army."
But Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said Sir Nick's comments were "irresponsible".
"Gen Sir Nick Carter may well have recognised that current and former soldiers should be held accountable, but it is not tenable for him to make judgements or draw a distinction on what are ‘genuine’ versus ‘vexatious’ claims," he said.
"Rather that is the job of the criminal justice system, and it is incumbent on the army and the Ministry of Defence to fully co-operate with any investigations."
He added: "There is not a witchhunt underway against former members of (the) armed forces. Indeed, those in positions in authority need to tackle this propaganda rather than feeding it".