Figures dismiss army 'witch hunt' allegations

Allison Morris
27 January, 2017 01:00

CLAIMS British soldiers are being persecuted in a 'witch hunt' have been denied by victim's campaigners, with statistics showing there have been no former members of the military convicted since the Good Friday Agreement .

Figures for legacy prosecutions of both loyalist and republicans remain in single figures with no former soldier or police officer jailed since the 1998 peace accord.

There are currently three former soldiers facing prosecution in relation to historic Troubles related killings.

Two former members of the Parachute regiment for the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972 and Denis Hutchings has been charged with the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, (27) shot dead in Co Tyrone in 1974.

A file on soldiers accused of involvement in the Bloody Sunday killings is currently under consideration by the PPS.

The decision to prosecute members of the military has been criticised by Tory MP Johnny Mercer, himself a former army captain, who has called it a "witchhunt" Sir Gerald Howarth also used parliamentary privilege to accuse Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory of "supporting" Sinn Féin.

This criticism has resulted in Mr McGrory taking the unusual step of publicly defending the independence of his office.

Throughout the Troubles only a handful of soldiers were ever convicted of shootings while on duty.

Thomas 'Kidso' Reilly (22) was murdered by Private Ian Thain, on Springfield Road on August 9 1983. He served just over two years in a military prison before being accepted back into the army.

Scots guardsmen, Mark Wright and James Fisher, were convicted of killing 18-year-old Peter McBride in 1992. Following a high profile campaign they were eventually released in September 1998, and went back into their regiment.

Lee Clegg served four years in prison for the murder of teenager Karen Reilly (18) in 1990. He was cleared at a retrial in 1998 and returned to the Parachute regiment and was later deployed to Afghanistan.

Since 1998 there have been only a handful of convictions in relation to historic attacks, two loyalist, two Provisional IRA and two INLA.

All served two years in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement before being released on licence.

In 2011 Robert Clarke was convicted of murdering 53-year-old Alfredo Fusco in his north Belfast cafe in 1973. Clarke was convicted earlier this month of his role in a fuel laundering operation and sentenced to serve a year in prison.

Loyalist Bobby Rodgers was convicted in 2013 of the sectarian murder of teenager Eileen Doherty (19) shot in 1973 when the taxi she was travelling in was hijacked.

Seamus Kearney, was convicted in December 2013 for murdering 25-year-old RUC Reserve Constable, John Proctor in 1981.

Gerry McGeough was convicted in 2011 for the 1981 attempted murder of former UDR soldier Sammy Brush, in Co Tyrone.

INLA man Declan Duffy was convicted in 2010 for the 1992 killing of Sergeant Michael Newman, a 34-year-old army recruitment sergeant, who was shot dead in Derby, in England.

Another INLA member, Joseph Magee, was jailed in 2004 after pleading guilty to also taking part in the murder.

There are two further historic cases currently going through the courts linked to the controversial Boston College tapes.

Veteran republican Ivor Bell (79) is facing aiding and abetting charges linked to the IRA murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville in 1972.

Former loyalist leader Winston 'Winkie' Rea (65) is facing a number of charges including two for murder linked to alleged confessions made to researchers for the oral history project.

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice said: "While we don't accept the perception of imbalance, if that is the belief then implementing the Historical Investigations Unit, agreed to in 2014, would immediately shift the focus on those who carried out the most killings

"That would be the logical next step, but the British government and unionists, have sought to continually frustrate dealing with the past.

"And so we've all of this backlash that when scrutinised doesn't stack up or stand up".

Superintendent Jason Murphy, from the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch, told the Irish News the cold case team's current caseload consists of more than 900 cases.

Adding that of cases still outstanding, "139 would be regarded as having military victims and 238 would be regarded as being attributed to the military".

"The cases are reviewed using the case sequencing model which seeks to identify those cases that present the best opportunity to bring offenders to justice and in doing so protect the public", he said.

He added that the work of the team could take several years to complete.


27 January, 2017 01:00 News