Northern Ireland news

Tory MP proposes 10-year limit on prosecutions against ex-soldiers

Tory MP Richard Benyon
Jon Vale, Press Association Political Staff

A TORY MP has presented a bill calling for a statute of limitations on prosecuting British soldiers involved in past conflicts including the Troubles.

Richard Benyon, who served in the British army in Northern Ireland, said many feared investigations against former soldiers were "a form of retributive politics".

He cited the case of 78-year-old Dennis Hutchings, who is facing an attempted murder charge linked to the fatal shooting in 1974 of John Pat Cunningham (27), a vulnerable man with learning difficulties, in Benburb, Co Armagh.

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory has strongly defended the impartiality of his office and said more paramilitary cases have been prosecuted than military cases.

Mr Benyon suggested cases against British troops for their conduct during combat should only be brought within a 10-year time limit - a move which would rule out the prosecutions of soldiers who served during the Troubles.

In introducing his Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Benyon described prosecutions against former soldiers as "nonsense".

"Terrorists who would otherwise be in prison walk free under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"The person who slaughtered seven members of my battalion's band, while they were playing to tourists in Regent's Park, is known to the authorities, but he is not pursued.

"So why is Dennis Hutchings being pursued, and why are we now facing the possibility of potentially many more veterans receiving the knock on the door?"

The bill was formally read yesterday and is to be read a second time on June 15 next year.

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