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Amnesty for veterans ‘won’t be in Queen’s speech’

Queen's Speech 2015 Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The Queen’s Speech is due to take place on Monday as part of the State Opening of Parliament

A former Army chief has expressed dismay at reports that plans to protect military veterans from prosecution will not feature in the Queen’s Speech.

Boris Johnson had promised to end the pursuit of soldiers over historical allegations in Northern Ireland, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it is believed the prime minister has been persuaded not to include the proposed law in Monday’s speech.

A government source said the PM is committed to legislating on the issue.

“The PM has been clear that we need to end the unfair trials of people who served their country when no new evidence has been produced and when the accusations have already been exhaustively questioned in court,” the source said.

The proposed law would have included a statutory presumption against prosecution for current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than a decade ago.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Lord Dannatt was head of the Army between 2006 and 2009

Lord Dannatt, a former chief of the general staff, said he was “very disappointed” at the reported move to leave it out of the Queen’s Speech.

He told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme it was unacceptable that serving and former soldiers run the risk of prosecution for taking part in military operations.

He said: “Nobody is above the law. If soldiers have broken the law and if there is evidence to back up charges against them, then of course they must face the rigours of the law and take the consequences.

“But in the vast majority of cases, British soldiers, particularly in the campaign in Northern Ireland, got up in the morning to do their duty to keep the peace according to the rules of engagement we had, in sharp contrast to terrorists who got up in the morning whose aim was to maim and kill.”

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Image caption Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing prosecution

The government source told the BBC: “We are determined to make progress and legislate on the issue of legacy prosecutions.

“Our clear and overriding objective remains to provide a better way to address the past for all those affected by the Troubles.”

The source said the Northern Ireland Office has consulted on the question of legacy prosecutions and the government is engaging with the main parties in Northern Ireland, MPs in Westminster and wider society across Northern Ireland to reach a broad consensus.

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing prosecution.

The cases relate to the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972; as well as the deaths in separate incidents of Daniel Hegarty, John Pat Cunningham; Joe McCann and Aidan McAnespie.

Not all of the charges are for murder.


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