Northern Ireland news

Bloody Sunday: Attorney General asked to investigate Gavin Williamson's remarks

Gavin Williamson, the British government's defence secretary
Brendan Hughes

THE Attorney General has been urged by Bloody Sunday families to investigate whether British government defence secretary Gavin Williamson has interfered in the judicial process.

In a recent interview, Mr Williamson said he was saddened that protection against "spurious prosecutions" would not be given to service personnel in time for proceedings announced yesterday in Derry.

Mr Williamson yesterday confirmed the Ministry of Defence would support and pay all legal costs for Soldier F, who is to face murder charges related to Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Lawyers for Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, contacted the Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin about the defence secretary's comments.

Mr Williamson had "threatened the fairness of the judicial process" and "shown a blatant disregard" for those affected by Bloody Sunday, solicitor Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law said.

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Earlier, John Kelly – whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed – said the Attorney General should decide if the defence secretary or other politicians have broken the law.

"If they have, they should be charged. They cannot attempt to interfere in a judicial process just because they don't like it, or because their voters don't like it," he said.

Some MPs have campaigned for a statute of limitations which would prevent soldiers from being prosecuted for serving their country, including in Northern Ireland.

Mr Williamson told Political Thinking With Nick Robinson's BBC Radio 4 podcast: "We need to give protections to service personnel ... to ensure we don't have spurious prosecutions.

"No-one in the Armed Forces wants to be above the law, but what we did need to do is ensure that they do have the protection so that they don't feel under threat."

In response to a question about whether that would make a difference to Bloody Sunday, he continued: "Sadly, I don't think that will come in time.

"I think we have to ask a real question as to Northern Ireland has moved on. There's been so much progress – we've got to look to the future, not at the past."

On covering Soldier F's legal costs, Mr Williamson yesterday said: "We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland."

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He said his department was working across government on "safeguards to ensure our Armed Forces are not unfairly treated".

 

Mr Williamson also said the government will "urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues", adding: "Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution."

The defence secretary's comments follow criticism over remarks last week by Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

She told MPs at Westminster that Troubles killings by security forces were "not crimes" and were carried out by people "fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way".

After facing calls to resign, the Northern Ireland secretary apologised for her "deeply insensitive" and "inaccurate" remarks.

British prime minister Theresa May also faced criticism last year for claiming only people in the "armed forces" or "law enforcement" were facing Troubles investigations.

In Stormont's absence, the Northern Ireland Office last year launched a consultation on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

It outlined proposals for a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, an oral history archive, and an implementation and reconciliation group.

Last month it was confirmed Stormont's justice department is setting up a Legacy Inquest Unit to process Troubles inquests.

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