Northern Ireland news

Brokenshire claims about disproportionate Troubles probes described as ‘deeply troubling'

James Brokenshire said probes into Troubles killings are "disproportionately" focusing on British state forces. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Claims by the secretary of state that investigations into Troubles killings are disproportionately focusing on British state forces have been branded false and "deeply troubling".

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, James Brokenshire said inquiries were "not working" and insisted the "vast majority" of British soldiers and RUC officers served with distinction.

Amid political stalemate over new structures to deal with the past, the PSNI's legacy investigation branch is looking into more than 3,200 killings between 1969 and 2004.

Last week Superintendent Jason Murphy told the Irish News that the cold case team's caseload consists of more than 900 cases, with 139 regarded as having military victims and 238 regarded as being attributed to the military".

Figures for legacy prosecutions of loyalists and republicans are in single figures since the Good Friday Agreement, with no former soldier or police officer jailed since 1998.

However, three former soldiers are currently facing prosecution in relation to Troubles killings, while a file on Bloody Sunday is also under consideration.

On Saturday, an estimated 1,000 British army veterans protested in London against former soldiers being "subjected to witch hunts".

Northern Ireland MPs and former soldiers Danny Kinahan and Jeffrey Donaldson took part in the rally, which was organised by Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans.

In Mr Brokenshire's article he said there was a "danger of seeing the past rewritten".

"It is also clear the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state - former members of the armed forces and the RUC, the vast majority of whom served in Northern Ireland with great courage, professionalism and distinction.

"I believe that with political will an agreement is within reach to deal with this important and sensitive issue."

Mr Donaldson backed the secretary of state's comments, claiming there has been "a one-sided legal persecution of police and soldiers despite 90 per cent of deaths in Northern Ireland having been carried out by terrorists from all sides".

"The secretary of state is correct when he says the current system is not working and he must now act decisively to address this," he said.

However, SDLP justice spokesman Alex Attwood said Mr Brokenshire's remarks beggared belief.

"This week the director of public prosecutions and the lord chief justice respectively asserted their independence and defended due process and the rule of law in the face of false claims to the contrary," he said.

"This weekend the secretary of state for Northern Ireland should publicly be out fully on the same message – the fact that he chooses otherwise, to repeat false claims, is deeply troubling."

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said on Friday that any suggestion he had given priority in Troubles inquests to cases involving the state was "simply not correct".

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory also said last week that allegations that cases involving former soldiers have been unfairly prioritised insulted him as well as all the lawyers in the service.

Mr McGrory pointed out there had been only three prosecutorial decisions involving former soldiers in recent times - two that resulted in prosecutions and one in no prosecution.

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