Northern Ireland

Theresa May repeats claim paramilitaries are not being investigated for Troubles killings

Theresa May speaks during prime minister's questions today in the House of Commons 
Theresa May speaks during prime minister's questions today in the House of Commons 

British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeated claims that only members of the British security forces are facing Troubles investigations.

Speaking during prime minister's questions this afternoon, Ms May insisted police officers in the north were "the sole subject of investigations" and said she wanted to ensure "terrorists are investigated for past crimes as well."

The prime minister's comments follow remarks made last month when she told the House of Commons that "the only people being investigated" are those who served in armed forces or law enforcement.

Ms May's claims have been contradicted by official figures from the PSNI which showed that investigations into killings by the British Army accounted for around 30 per cent of its legacy workload.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said Mrs May's claim was not backed up by statistics.

Last year, the then Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory stated that his office has prosecuted more legacy cases linked to paramilitaries than the military.

The prime minister was today answering a question from former defence minister Mark Francois who said he is concerned British military veterans will be "scapegoated" for actions which occurred during the Troubles.

The Tory former minister's intervention came after the outgoing head of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, said he was deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of a historical investigations unit being established to review the conflict.

Mr Francois told MPs that servicemen and women should be treated as "heroes".

He said: "Within this House there is growing concern at the prospect of brave servicemen being effectively scapegoated by others for political or financial gain.

"We call our servicemen and women heroes, we should treat them accordingly.

"So would the prime minister be prepared to at least entertain some investigation into the concept of a statute of limitations in order to protect those who have served on the front line and also those who will follow them in the future?"

His intervention came after Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood broke ranks with the official British government position over the weekend to back calls for a time limit for investigations into historical events.

A current consultation document issued by Secretary of State Karen Bradley on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles does not include provision for a statute of limitations, to the anger of many Conservative MPs.

Ms May responded by telling MPs "we don't just call our servicemen and women heroes, they are heroes".

She added: "What we do want to ensure is that we don't see our servicemen and women and indeed in relation to legacy issues in Northern Ireland police officers being the sole subject of investigations, which is what is happening at the moment.

"I want to ensure that terrorists are investigated for past crimes as well and that is why the Secretary of State has launched the consultation on legacy issues and it is of course open to people to respond to that consultation."

Last month Ms May was criticised by former Stormont justice minister David Ford who said she came close to political interference after claiming the system for investigating the Troubles was unfair.