New bill to prevent veterans being ‘hounded’ over Troubles service

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Joe Murphy
·2 min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New legislation to stop former soldiers being “hounded” over alleged wrongdoing during the Troubles in Northern Ireland will be in next month’s Queen’s Speech, a Cabinet Minister disclosed today.

The Evening Standard understands that a Bill will seek to prevent veterans being repeatedly summoned to courts, inquiries and tribunals.

However it is not expected to prevent current prosecutions of elderly veterans who served in the 1970s, the issue that provoked the protest resignation of Defence Minister Johnny Mercer last night.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden revealed the proposed new laws are being “signed off” by senior ministers this week. “In respect of veterans being hounded, and those are real concerns that we have pledged to address in terms of ensuring that veterans don’t face the constant threat of going back to the courts for the past actions.”

Asked about the plight of veterans currently facing prosecution, whom Mr Mercer said were drinking themselves to death, Mr Dowden asserted: “Ministers as we speak are signing off legislation on that which we’ll bring forward in the next session to address precisely that problem. I know from conversations with the Prime Minister, if he’s absolutely determined to address this.”

Mr Mercer said he had “no choice” but to leave his post as Minister for Veterans Affairs, blaming a failure to make good on the Prime Minister’s promise to protect veterans.

“I remain genuinely appalled by the experiences of some of this nation’s finest people who have served in the Armed Forces,” he wrote in a resignation letter.

“I fought and bled alongside them, I’ve been far more fortunate than many of them since, and I have a duty to tell their truth to power.”

A Bill almost through Parliament will put a time limit of five years on prosecutions for allegations on overseas tours. Mr Mercer wanted the same for Northern Ireland.

Writing in tonight’s Evening Standard, Tom Newton Dunn reveals how Mr Mercer’s resignation was pre-empted after he disclosed his intentions to the Chief Whip.

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