Northern Ireland news

Former head of the British Army says stop 'macabre charade' of questioning former soldiers

John Kelly who lost his brother Michael Kelly at Bloody Sunday takes part in a minute's silence in the Bogside of Derry at the anniversary in January
Ellie Cullen

The former head of the British army has urged the government to put a stop to the "macabre charade" that could see former soldiers facing legal action for Troubles killings.

Lord Bramall said it was "absurd and grossly unfair" that soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday in 1972 should be questioned by police - and accused the PSNI of "harrying" veterans in a "desperate attempt to bring criminal charges".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Bramall, who served as Chief of the General Staff between 1979 and 1982, said he had warned against such action in a House of Commons speech eight years ago.

He said: "It is... bewildering that the Government has somehow allowed the Northern Ireland Police Service to resurrect the whole affair and to introduce this extremely lengthy and slow-moving questioning under caution of British soldiers."

He said the questioning "greatly abuses these hapless soldiers, who should not have been there in the first place."

And he claimed: "Whatever their shortcomings, they were trying to do their duty as they thought fit in aid of the civil power, as the army has generally done most successfully over so many years. In the interests of justice, fair play and even-handedness, the Government must, by whatever means, put a stop at once to this macabre charade."

His comments come after the new head of the armed forces last week spoke out about British soldiers being "chased by people making vexatious claims" of wrongdoing, vowing: "That will not happen on my watch."

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter praised the "remarkable job" done by the British army in Northern Ireland and said groundless allegations against soldiers risked undermining the Army's fighting spirit.

He promised that soldiers facing any investigation would be looked after "to the best of our ability".

It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May wrongly claimed that historical Troubles investigations only target soldiers and police.

Some MPs have called on the Government to introduce a statute of limitations to end what they claim is a "witch hunt" against members of the armed forces.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has pledged to look at "all options" to protect veterans from legacy investigations amid fears Second World War campaign survivors could be targeted.

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