One word sums up how military veterans facing continued investigations feel: betrayed.
It’s a word I hear time and time again from men like Dennis Hutchings.The former British soldier was arrested in a dawn raid, carted off to Northern Ireland, thrown in a cell and interrogated for hours about a fatal shooting in 1974 during the Troubles. Dennis, who joined the Army aged 19 and served in the Life Guards, is 77 and seriously ill. He now faces trial for attempted murder for something he was told allegedly happened more than 40 years ago.
It’s impossible not to feel angry over his treatment — or that of decorated Major Bob Campbell, who now faces his eighth investigation over the death of an Iraqi teen in 2003 despite being repeatedly cleared of any wrongdoing. The bomb disposal expert tells me he feels spat out and left high and dry. Can you blame him for handing back his service medals to the Queen?
IRA suspects were given so-called “comfort letters” by Tony Blair’s government ahead of the Good Friday Agreement stating they were no longer wanted for past crimes. It has led to a completely lopsided and unfair situation. British veterans are facing repeated prosecutions, while IRA terrorists get off scot free.
This is why I am demanding a time limit on prosecutions for British veterans of not just Northern Ireland, but all tours of conflict, including the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a former soldier, having served tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen the contribution our Armed Forces personnel make to our national security.
Being at the sharp end of foreign policy is what made me want to become an MP. This hounding of our heroes is outrageous and an insult to those who were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. I see it as my duty to use my time in Parliament to urge the Government to help protect these veterans.
But I need Sun readers’ help. In just over two weeks — on June 25, which marks the start of Armed Forces Week — I will present a petition to the House of Commons. We need as many signatures as possible to make the Government take notice. It is not just the lives of heroes like Bob and Dennis that are at stake, but our national security.
Our servicemen and women need to know they can risk their lives on our behalf and the Government will be behind them and protect them from legal pursuit. It’s hugely important there is a strong bond between the Government and the Armed Forces. This is a live issue. Troops are still being deployed around the world on our behalf. They are operating in battle environments under intense pressure.
Soldiers need to be able to do their duty knowing that when they come home, the job is done and they can get on with their lives — and not have a cloud of doubt hanging over them with the constant fear of one day being prosecuted in some sort of spurious manner. And at a time when the military is understaffed, who is going to join up and serve with confidence if they see reports of veterans being prosecuted?
We have brilliant soldiers coming through the ranks. They are still the best in the world. If you are going to attract the best, the Government needs to assure them they have our protection. They are not expected to be above the law — this is seeking to avoid repeated prosecutions. Yes, it is a legal minefield because the law is complex. But Parliament makes the law. If the Government has to contest this in the European Court of Human Rights, then fair enough.
My fellow MP and former Army officer Johnny Mercer successfully campaigned for the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT), set up to review and investigate allegations of abuse of Iraqi civilians by UK Armed Forces, to be shut down last year. But there are still hundreds of soldiers who could be liable for prosecution.
The Government needs to form a strong statement on this, otherwise our national security will continue to be undermined by ambulance-chasing law firms exploiting the Human Rights Act to pursue soldiers through the courts. You can only imagine the detrimental effect this is having on the morale of troops.
And the cost is a huge amount of money for the taxpayer. It is a complete waste of public funds. From the strength of feeling in my constituency I know most people on the street don’t want this. The feeling is very clear. It is unacceptable.
I urge you to sign the petition and back our servicemen and women because the greater the number, the stronger the message.