Northern Ireland news

Karen Bradley faces calls to resign over claim that security force killings are 'not crimes'

Karen Bradley said her initial comments 'might have been open to misinterpretation'

SECRETARY of State Karen Bradley last night faced mounting calls to resign over claims that security force killings during the Troubles were "not crimes".

Mrs Bradley was forced to clarify the remarks in the House of Commons within hours of telling MPs that soldiers and police who shot civilians were "fulfilling their duty".

Her statement, which came days before an expected announcement on the prosecution of British soldiers over the Bloody Sunday killings, was branded "outrageous and offensive" by Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill.

She said she spoke to Ms Bradley and "told her in the strongest possible terms that her comments today are beyond unacceptable. Told her it is a resignation matter."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also called for Mrs Bradley's to resign, while his Alliance counterpart Naomi Long said if she "does not withdraw her comments and apologise to the families, her position will be untenable".

Last year, Conservative leader Theresa May sparked nationalist anger after claiming that the process for probing Troubles-related killings is "patently unfair" to soldiers and police.

Analysis: Karen Bradley's comments crass and insensitive

Despite PSNI figures showing that investigations into deaths by the British army accounted for only 30 per cent of its legacy workload, the prime minister claimed the "only people being investigated for these issues are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement".

In 2017, Mrs Bradley's predecessor James Brokenshire also claimed Troubles inquiries were placing too much focus on ex-soldiers and former RUC officers.

Reports at the weekend suggested British defence secretary Gavin Williamson was set to introduce legislation that would impose a 10-year limit on new prosecutions of security force members for alleged historic abuses.

Mrs May confirmed yesterday that the Ministry of Defence was considering legislation to ensure service personnel are not "unfairly pursued through the courts".

Read More: Solicitor for Aidan McAnespie family says Karen Bradley comments mean juries cannot hear soldier trials

Mrs Bradley made her initial statement in response to a question from DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly, who asked when she planned to put a mechanism in place to investigate unsolved paramilitary killings.

The secretary of state said that more 90 per cent of the killings during the conflict were "at the hands of terrorists" and each one was a "crime".

"The fewer than 10 per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes," she added.

"They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way."

Read More: Despite Karen Bradley's claims that soldier killings are 'not crimes' prosecutions have been brought

Within hours she was back on her feet in the chamber, saying her comments "might have been open to misinterpretation".

"The point I was seeking to convey was that the overwhelming majority of those who served carried out their duties with courage, professionalism, and integrity and within the law," she said.

"I was not referring to any specific cases but expressing a general view. Of course, where there is evidence of wrongdoing it should always be investigated whoever is responsible – these are of course matters for the police and prosecuting authorities who are independent of government."

Ms O'Neill said the secretary of state had insulted families who had lost loved ones at the hands of the security forces.

"No-one can be above the law and bereaved families, some of whom have been campaigning for almost five decades, are entitled to access to truth and justice."

Colum Eastwood said Ms Bradley had again exhibited "her stunning ignorance about the past" and her comments were particularly insensitive ahead of the Bloody Sunday announcement.

Mrs Long said the secretary of state had "massively overstepped the mark".

"This interference in due process is unwarranted, unjustified and wholly inappropriate."

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice called for Ms Bradley to resign, describing the comments as "odious, disgusting and deeply offensive – they add further hurt to those affected by state violence and collusion".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was important to have mechanisms in place to investigate paramilitary killings and he was opposed to "witch hunts" against former British army and RUC personnel.

"However, no-one should be above the law and all innocent victims deserve justice," the Lagan Valley representative said.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney was due to meet Mrs Bradley in London last night where he would seek clarification of the comments.

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