Northern Ireland investigations

This week there has been further publicity - and understandable outcry - about the investigation of a decorated paratrooper over the events of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in 1972.

I was just nine years old when this terrible event, when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest, took place.  Fourteen people died.

Following a second inquiry, which incredibly cost £400 million and took 12 years to complete, the then Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for what happened, saying that the shooting of unarmed civilians was unjustifiable and wrong.

But I will also never forget the photographs of the bodies of two undercover soldiers who were lynched by a mob at an IRA funeral in 1988.  I still find those images absolutely haunting.

The Good Friday Agreement provided for the early release of prisoners serving sentences in connection with the activities of paramilitary groups.  But it did not give an amnesty for crimes which had not been prosecuted.

The concern is not only that these events were a long time ago, but that the military has been disproportionately targeted by investigations.  The Government has acknowledged that only one in ten killings during the Troubles were by the British military or law enforcement, yet nearly a third of the cases brought by the Police Service Northern Ireland legacy investigations unit have been against former soldiers.

Last month, in a Commons debate, I urged the Government to halt the disproportionate targeting of former British soldiers for offences alleged to have taken place over four decades ago.

I supported an amendment tabled by Sir Michael Fallon, the former Defence Secretary, which aimed to prevent government money being used to pursue servicemen who had served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The Government accepts that there is no moral equivalence between the actions of terrorists and the actions of the military.  Yet the way the law is being applied is not recognising this truth.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Karen Bradley, agreed that the status quo was “simply not acceptable”.  She said that the Government was consulting on how the Stormont House institutions would redress the imbalance.

Not before time.  No-one should be above the law, the military included.  But the whole point of the Peace Process was surely to put the Troubles behind us.  One sided prosecutions, especially of the military, for events that took place over half a century ago cannot be justified.

Joe Coombes