The witch hunt of British soldiers involved in the Northern Ireland Troubles is to be ended under new plans set to be revealed tomorrow.
Amnesties from prosecution for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement will be granted to veterans involved in the bitter 30-year conflict.
But paramilitaries will also be covered in the deal, which is expected to be brought before the House of Commons tomorrow.
The plan, which is due to be unveiled by Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is aimed at moving past behind Northern Ireland’s troubled history.
It is expected to include a statute of limitations ending all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998 – when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, pictured, is expected to bring proposals to the House of Commons tomorrow to effectively grant amnesty to crimes committed during The Troubles
Amnesties from prosecution for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement will be granted to veterans involved in the bitter 30-year conflict. Pictured: Demonstrators protest against the prosecution of ‘Soldier F’
Members of the Parachute Regiment were accused of murder after the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in January 1972 which saw 13 unarmed civilians shot dead during a civil rights march (Pictured the funeral procession of the 13 victims)
More than 3,500 people died during the conflict, which stretched from the early 1970s to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in 1998, while tens of thousands more were left injured.
Earlier this month, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced their intention to withdraw proceedings against two former soldiers, Soldier F for the murder of two men during Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty six months later.
It followed a review of the cases by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in light of a recent court ruling that caused the collapse of another Troubles murder trial involving two military veterans.
The Crown cases against both Soldier F and Soldier B hinged on evidence of a similar nature to that which was ruled inadmissible in April’s trial of Soldier A and Soldier C for the 1972 murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in Belfast.
A legal challenge to the decision to withdraw proceedings against Soldier F is ongoing.
Last month Mr Lewis and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney announced a new process by the two governments on legacy.
Families of victims, political parties and other stakeholders are to be involved.
Mr Lewis then said the process will ‘build on and develop on the principle of the Stormont House Agreement’.
In 2014, the Stormont House Agreement proposed a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders during the Troubles and an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval for families to learn more about the fate of their loved ones.
The families of those killed by soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 have urged against a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions.
A fresh inquest into the deaths of a woman and nine men in Ballymurphy found they were ‘entirely innocent’.
‘We see this as the British Government’s cynical attempt to bring in an amnesty and a plan to bury its war crimes,’ the families said in a statement.
Former service personnel have been highly critical of the Government after several former members of the Parachute Regiment faced prosecution over alleged murders during the 1970s
Months before Bloody Sunday, the Parachute Regiment were involved in the shooting dead of 11 unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, pictured
Families of the Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy victims want former soldiers prosecuted, but supporters of the paratroopers claim they should be granted an amnesty
‘The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings in May this year is the perfect example of why there should not be a statute of limitations.
‘Justice Keegan confirmed what the Ballymurphy Massacre families always stated, that all those who lost their lives in the Ballymurphy Massacre were ‘entirely innocent of any wrongdoing’ and ‘posed no threat’.
‘This is a war crime and those responsible must be held to account.’
Sandra Peake, chief executive of the Wave Trauma Centre, said a statute of limitation ‘removes the glimmer of hope’ from victims seeking justice.
She described it as ‘unfair’ that victims are hearing updates about the process of dealing with the past through the media.
‘In this line of work we talk about having victim-centred care, this has been far from that,’ she told the BBC.
‘There is further information coming out (tomorrow), it’s important to see that. We believe that if a statute of limitation comes, it is a defacto amnesty.
‘Many do not have expectations of prosecutions but they do have expectations around investigations, and I think that removing prosecutions, you remove that glimmer of hope. That’s what families have talked to me about, removing the glimmer of hope that somebody will be held to account and they think that that is what is so wrong. We cannot allow that to happen.’
Prosecutors to review cases of at least 16 after IRA trial fiasco
At least 16 Army veterans facing charges over shootings during the Troubles will have their cases reviewed following the collapse of a landmark trial, it was revealed in May.
Prosecutors will re-examine evidence dating back to 1972 after Soldiers A and C were acquitted of the killing that year of Official IRA commander Joe McCann.
A judge ruled statements given by the men, now 71 and 70, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting – and again in 2010 – were inadmissible.
His scathing comments led the prosecution to offer no evidence on the sixth day of the trial in May.
Four soldiers have already been charged with offences including murder.
As of May, a further 12 were awaiting decisions on prosecutions following historic investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Seven were members of a covert military unit made up of members of the SAS, Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment instructed to ‘eliminate’ suspected members of the IRA.
The failed prosecution of Soldiers A and C was the first carried out against ex-servicemen in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The province’s deputy director of public prosecutions said lawyers would now ‘carefully consider’ whether the judge’s comments would affect other cases.
Mr Justice John O’Hara dismissed the statements Soldiers A and C gave following the shooting of McCann, saying they were ‘compelled’ to make them and did not have legal representation.
Soldiers involved in fatal incidents were not questioned by police under caution until a year later, in 1973.
Justice O’Hara also ruled in May that the interviews the veterans voluntarily gave to the Historical Enquiries Team in 2010 were inadmissible because they were largely based on their 1972 statements.
He said investigators did not caution the men under suspicion of murder as they were not aware their report would be used in a criminal prosecution.
In any event, Paul Johnston, deputy director of the HET, concluded in his report into the death of McCann that there was ‘no new or compelling evidence’. Despite his findings, charges were brought without the veterans even being arrested or interviewed by police.
Philip Barden of Devonshires Solicitors, which represents Soldiers A and C and other Northern Ireland veterans, said any statements obtained prior to 1973 should be ruled inadmissible in future cases.
He added that proceedings stemming from HET statements would also need to be ‘carefully looked at’ to ensure defendants were cautioned for specific offences.
A veteran known as Soldier B is charged with the murder of teenager Daniel Hegarty in Londonderry in 1972 during an Army operation.
Another known as Soldier F is charged with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder in relation to 1972’s Bloody Sunday deaths.
And Dennis Hutchings, a 79-year-old former soldier in the Life Guards, is charged with attempted murder over a shooting in County Tyrone in 1974.