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Political news

SDLP and Sinn Féin reject time limit on prosecutions against soldiers

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has called for a time limit on prosecutions against soldiers who served in the north. Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker
Claire Simpson and David Young

SOLDIERS should not be above the law, the SDLP and Sinn Féin have said.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson called again yesterday for the introduction of a statute of limitations which would protect members of security forces from prosecution in Troubles cases.

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

"I recognise that no one is above the law, but when cases have been investigated—in some cases not just once, but twice—and the men and women who served our country have been exonerated only to find, years later, that those cases are being reopened, then I ?think there is something wrong," Sir Jeffrey said.

However, SDLP assembly candidate Alex Attwood said British soldiers must be held accountable under the same laws as the rest of the population.

He also called on the British government to "say unambiguously if they reject any impunity or immunity for any person, soldier or otherwise".

"Either all are equal before the law or they are not. There cannot be one rule for soldiers and a different rule for others," he said.

"The rule of law and due process must prevail. This is a central part of the new order of things. It cannot be held to ransom."

Sinn Féin assembly candidate Gerry Kelly accused the DUP of trying to "interfere" with the law.

"What this is about is to try and justify the impunity with which state forces operated during the conflict and the immunity that they have received up to this point and what they are trying to do now is interfere with the law and in my opinion it's more to do with elections than anything else," he said.

"They're trying to get away from RHI... they deliberately went to this issue of legacy," he told Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a third of cases which the director of public prosecutions has referred to police involve security force members during the Troubles.

Since 2011, Barra McGrory QC has used his power to ask the Chief Constable for further information 18 times.

On six occasions, the allegations involved members of security forces during the Troubles, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) told the Press Association.

Three other cases related to notorious IRA double agent Stakeknife. The other nine referrals related to cases which are not linked to the Troubles.

Last week, prosecutors revealed they had pursued five times more prosecutions against alleged paramilitaries than soldiers in the last five years.

Since November 2011, when Mr McGrory took office, the PPS has prosecuted seven Troubles-related cases linked to republicans, three linked to loyalists and two involving the military.

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