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Theresa May accused of 'throwing veterans to the wolves' to pander to Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Prime minister Theresa May
Alain Tolhurst and Josh Thomas, Press Association Political Staff

 

Theresa May has been accused of "throwing veterans to the wolves" to pander to Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Tory Mark Francois read a letter from an ex-soldier and Chelsea Pensioner during Prime Minister's Questions as a number of MPs attacked the Government over potential police investigations into actions by members of the armed forces during the Troubles.

He told the chamber it came from Northern Ireland veteran David Griffin, a "Dublin-born Irish Catholic who joined the British Army" who in 1972 killed an IRA gunman who was "about to assassinate a comrade on a guard post".

Mr Francois said that 47 years later Mr Griffin is being investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and wanted to ask the PM: "I served my Queen and country in uniform for over 20 years and was commended for my service in Northern Ireland.

"Acting under the lawful orders of my officer commanding I killed a terrorist who was about to murder one of my comrades, yet I am being investigated like I am a criminal.

"The IRA have letters of comfort, we don't. Why are you pandering to Sinn Fein/IRA while you throw veterans like me to the wolves?"

The MP finished by saying: "What is your answer to this Chelsea Pensioner and all the veterans he represents?"

The PM said it is "not the case that the terrorists have an amnesty", and the proposals were about having a "fair and just system".

She said: "We want to see a system where investigations can take place in a lawful manner and the results can be upheld and will not be reopened in the future, and in order to do that we need to change the current system."

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who served in Northern Ireland, asked the PM how he can tell old military colleagues "that this Government has not abandoned them".

She responded: "We absolutely value the service that he and others did in Northern Ireland. This was a very difficult time for a part of the United Kingdom and the work that police did and that the armed forces did in Northern Ireland during that time was absolutely crucial.

"We want to ensure there is a fair and just system that is working across the board to deal with these legacy issues.

"But what is happening at the moment is that there is a disproportionate emphasis in terms of cases that involve the police and the armed forces.

"There are cases involving terrorists that are being looked into but I think people would recognise that there is a disproportionate focus on the police and forces.

"What is important is that we therefore bring in a system that has full support and will enable people to see fairness and justice being applied."

Another Tory MP, Owen Paterson (North Shropshire), said: "None of those people who served want a blanket amnesty," adding what they want is "categorical assurance prosecuting authorities will not bring forward fresh prosecutions unless there is categorical clear new evidence".

In response to the former Northern Ireland secretary, the PM said there have been a number of processes aiming to deal with "deaths during the Troubles, but all of the processes so far have been found to be flawed in some way".

Earlier the Government was told by a Conservative MP and former soldier that it should be "ashamed" of its treatment of Northern Ireland veterans.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) said they needed better protection from prosecution.

Speaking during Northern Ireland Questions, Mr Stewart said: "As an ex-soldier and now a Member of Parliament, I am ashamed. Ashamed that my Government has not sorted this matter out.

"I ask the minister, and especially the Secretary of State who has been in post longer, how much longer before this can be sorted out, and are you not ashamed?"

Northern Ireland minister John Penrose replied: "I suspect this is something which successive governments need to share some blame for failing to fix over many years, and it is clearly a situation which cannot be allowed to continue.

"It is not right, it is not just, and it must be sorted out as promptly as we can."

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced plans last week for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the proposals, there would be a "presumption against prosecution" in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years unless there were "exceptional circumstances".

As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.

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