Retrospective Investigation of Fatal Shooting Incidents involving Soldiers in Northern Ireland

As a result of the reported investigation of soldiers who had been involved in shooting incidents in Northern Ireland Bob spoke about it in the Adjournment Debate of the House of Commons on 20th December 2016.  The relevant extract from Hansard is below.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)    

Having served in Northern Ireland during the troubles there, I have been asked by my old comrades in the Cheshire Regiment to highlight an iniquity that has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti).

The iniquity is that many British soldiers could be reinvestigated for their actions during fatal shooting incidents.

Apparently, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been instructed to look at about 230 fatal shooting incidents, during which some 302 people died, almost all of them terrorists. If that is the case, my understanding is that about 1,000 ex-soldiers could be hauled in to account for their actions all those years ago, and could even be retrospectively charged with manslaughter or murder.

I am appalled that such actions are being taken against our soldiers when so many terrorists from all sides were granted full pardons under the Good Friday agreement.

To me, it looks like a highly political and vindictive move by Mr Barra McGrory, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. As I understand it, in the past McGrory represented Provisional Sinn Féin and on-the-run terror suspects as their solicitor. He negotiated an effective amnesty for many of them. His background hardly suggests impartiality to me.

Our soldiers were trained to apply strict rules of engagement. The so-called yellow card—technically, “Instructions by the Director of Operations for Opening Fire in Northern Ireland”—was both detailed and precise. The rules of engagement outlined exactly when soldiers could use firearms, and our troops spent a long time being instructed about them during pre-Northern Ireland training sessions.

Opening fire in Northern Ireland was considered a very serious matter by the Army. After every shooting incident, regardless of casualties, the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary held an investigation. When such events involved casualties or fatalities, strict procedures were followed. That normally involved soldiers having to go to court to prove that they had acted within the law and the yellow card rules.

During one incident, in which I played a small part, I recall having to tell two soldiers that, having escaped with their lives by opening fire, they would none the less be charged with manslaughter. Unsurprisingly, the two men, still in some shock, were utterly appalled. They shouted at me, saying that they had been abandoned by the Army. As their superior officer, I totally understood their feelings and shared them.

None the less, the Royal Ulster Constabulary had informed me that the two soldiers had to be charged with manslaughter. Personally I was furious and I argued vociferously that this was wrong and very unfair. Regardless, the soldiers appeared in court. It was quickly proved that they had acted within the law, and their case was dismissed.

It was difficult for me and especially the soldiers at the time to understand the reason for that court appearance, but it was explained to me that, having had their case dismissed, they could never be charged again—perhaps, if the political climate changed. Guess what? It seems to have done.

I had difficulty seeing the logic at the time. Then later, after the immediate drama was over, I did. I believed that the whole matter had been dealt with in court and it was over—for ever. But maybe I was wrong. I presume that my two men could be among the 302 soldiers apparently under investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland.

I do not maintain that our servicemen and women are above the law—of course they are not. But re-opening all fatal shooting incidents involving soldiers is hugely one-sided and looks very bad to the armed services community, and that includes me and several other Members of the House. (intervention)

Christian Matheson (Chester) (Lab)   

I am most grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. He was a leader of the Cheshire Regiment, and many of my constituents served with him in that excellent regiment. Does he agree that all those former servicemen who risked their lives serving in Northern Ireland, including my constituents, deserve to have that black cloud removed from them as quickly as possible?

Bob Stewart  

I thank my good friend—I call him that because he comes from Chester and I commanded the Cheshire Regiment—for that intervention. Yes, our soldiers should not be under this cloud. They are not terrorists.

Terrorists have been given amnesty and a pardon in the Good Friday agreement. Why should our men, some of them quite old now, not sleep soundly when terrorists who have killed do so? It is wrong, iniquitous and possibly malicious, and it is a huge waste of public money while we are at it.

Why is the Director of Public Prosecutions not telling the Police Service of Northern Ireland to direct its efforts into clearing up and charging so many unsolved terrorist murders from the time of the troubles?

Incidents involving soldiers were investigated at the time and, if wrong was done, our soldiers were taken to court there and then. Some even went to prison. What sort of people are we who give terrorists amnesty and hound those who put their lives at risk for the rest of us?

I demand that the legal authorities in Northern Ireland desist from this clearly politically inspired blanket action against what could be almost 1,000 soldiers. They should concentrate their energies on finding the still un-located remains of the many innocent people massacred by terrorists, and bring those murderers to book.