Northern Ireland news

Both potential UK prime ministers now pledging to end `unfair' prosecutions of Northern Ireland army veterans

Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson has backed the public campaign supporting soldiers. Picture by Ian Forsyth/PA Wire

BOTH of the UK's potential prime ministers have now pledged to end "unfair" prosecutions of army veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson joined rival Jeremy Hunt in backing the public campaign supporting soldiers who served during the Troubles.

The move will be popular with a significant cohort of MPs in the Conservative Party who have been calling for the move.

Among those backing the idea of a statute of limitations for former soldiers are some who served in Northern Ireland.

However, Sinn Féin legacy spokeswoman Linda Dillon said the suggestion is "highly offensive" to victims of the conflict killed by state forces or as a result of collusion with loyalists.

"This campaign is an attempt at putting British state forces who killed Irish citizens above the law," she said.

"It is appalling that families have been forced to wait over 40 years for any semblance of truth and justice as a direct result of the British state's cover-up of murder and collusion during the conflict.

"Boris Johnson needs to realise there are legal and international obligations which any new administration will have to respect.

"That means there can be no hierarchy of victims."

Mr Johnson told The Sun: "We need to end unfair trials of people who served their Queen and country when no new evidence has been produced and when the accusations have already been exhaustively questioned in court.

"We must protect people against unfair prosecutions. And I will."

Mr Johnson also indicated he would appoint a veterans minister if elected Tory leader.

Among the Northern Ireland veterans facing prosecution over Troubles deaths is Soldier F, who has been charged in relation to the killings of two protesters on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.

The Public Prosecution Service announced in March there was enough evidence to prosecute him for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney.

Soldier F is also charged with the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell.

Thirteen people were shot dead at a civil rights march on January 30 1972.

On Monday, defence secretary Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons: "Although we have obligations under the Stormont House Agreement and we have to approach these things in different ways, our obligations to our veterans, whether they served on an operation on UK soil or whether they served on an operation overseas, are the same obligations."

She announced plans in May for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a "presumption against prosecution" in relation to alleged incidents more than 10 years old unless there were "exceptional circumstances".

While the legislation will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, Ms Mordaunt has said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Office revealed its consultation exercise showed a "clear majority" of respondents felt an amnesty for Troubles-related matters would be inappropriate.

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