Northern Ireland news

Gavin Williamson: Defence secretary's plan for Troubles amnesty rejected

British defence secretary Gavin Williamson proposed a statute of limitations which would include ex-paramilitaries and soldiers
David Wilcock, Press Association

GAVIN Williamson has been slapped down by Downing Street for apparently suggesting former paramilitaries be given an amnesty from prosecution in order to provide the same protection to British soldiers.

The Defence Secretary wrote to Theresa May, urging her to create a "statute of limitations" for offences during the Troubles.

Such a statute would forbid prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was carried out more than a certain number of years ago.

Mr Williamson told the Prime Minister that British soldiers who served in the north from the 1970s to the 1990s should have the "protection they deserve", adding: "If this means a wider amnesty, so be it."

However, a Downing Street spokeswoman on Friday said: "We cannot countenance a proposal where amnesties would be provided to terrorists.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to the bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and are accountable to it."

In May, Secretary of State Karen Bradley insisted there was "no support" in the north for a "Northern Ireland-only statute of limitations".

In the letter reported by the Sun, Mr Williamson argued that such a statute was exactly what was needed.

"If this means a wider amnesty, so be it: in the public mind, the effect of the Good Friday Agreement sentencing reforms, the 'On the Run' letters which inadvertently led to the failure of the prosecution of John Downey for the 1982 Hyde Park bombings, and the apparent disproportionate focus of the current investigation on security forces amount to a de facto amnesty for terrorists already," he wrote.

"It is time to give our veterans the protection they deserve."

The defence secretary reiterated comments made by Theresa May in May in which she claimed that “the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland” - a situation which she described as “patently unfair”.

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton later said Mrs May's comments were at odds with official figures.

""There's about 30% of our caseload within legacy investigations branch that is focussed on former military personnel, so-called state actors," he said.

Mr Williamson reacted to the letter today, tweeting: "Bit amazed to see the way this is described.

"The reality is that I'm prepared to go to any lengths to stop this ridiculous vendetta against former service personnel.

"Hopefully that is exactly what other colleagues are also pushing for."

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