Northern Ireland news

Doug Beattie proposals on royal prerogative of mercy for British soldiers criticised

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie
Connla Young

A leading Ulster Unionist has said British soldiers convicted of Troubles-related crimes that are "not premeditated" should be given the royal prerogative of mercy.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie also called for legal hearings to be held behind closed doors and an end to legal aid for “historical actions against the military”.

The suggestions have drawn criticism from relatives of people killed by the British army.

They were responding to a recent report produced by the House of Commons Defence Committee ‘Drawing a line: Protecting Veterans by a Statute of Limitations'.

Mr Beattie, who is a former British soldier, made submissions to the committee last year.

According to the report he proposed that a statute of limitations would “not achieve the purpose for which it is intended - namely protecting troops” as it would be extended to cover paramilitary groups.

He also argued that the royal prerogative of mercy “must be viewed as the fall-back position for any soldier found guilty of a crime that is not premeditated”.

The MLA said such a mechanism could enable those charged “to make a clear statement of fact knowing that they will not be facing jail”.

He said this could take place in a closed court with no media coverage.

In the past royal prerogatives of mercy have been handed to some republicans, including senior Sinn Féin member Gerry Kelly.

The report also said the Upper Bann assembly member suggested that the British government “should stop legal aid for historical actions against the military, suggesting that this ‘should apply to those abusing the legal aid system and who are trying to rewrite history'.”

Julieann Campbell, whose uncle Jackie Duddy was shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday in January 1972, claimed the proposals amounted to "a delusional North Korean-style de facto amnesty”.

Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was also killed by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in August 1971, claimed the UUP and Mr Beattie “are in complete denial about wrongdoing by British soldiers”.

“This has got to be one of the most anti-victim proposals ever to be made on dealing with the past,” she said.

Mr Beattie last night said “victims' families are always going to see this in a particular way and have a right to do that and don't necessarily see the nuance of what is being said".

“I am sorry if they view what I said in that way, it was not my intention.”

He said that between 1998 and 2002, 16 royal prerogatives of mercy were granted to republicans.

“That's one every three months for four years and nobody batted an eyelid,” he said.

On the issue of legal aid Mr Beattie added that some claims made about the past are “vexatious and speculative”.

“They should not get legal aid and we should set the bar higher."

He also insisted that former British soldiers accused of wrongdoing should be given anonymity.

“Soldiers under orders from senior officers, under orders from politicians, should have their identity protected,” he said.

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