Sinn Fein has strongly rejected the latest attempt to rule out prosecutions of British soldiers for war crimes committed during the conflict in Ireland.
The party’s Victims and Legacy spokesperson Linda Dillon was speaking after Tory MP Richard Benyon presented a bill in Westminster that would provide a ‘statute of limitations’ on the prosecution of British troops.
Benyon, the MP for Newbury (pictured), accused Irish republicans of a ‘witch hunt’ against British troops.
“Extreme nationalist-leaning individuals within the Northern Ireland justice system have decided to reignite such investigations,” he told his parliament.
He mentioned the prominent case of a former British soldier Dennis Hutchings who is facing an attempted murder charge over the killing of John Pat Cunningham, a vulnerable man with learning difficulties The young man, who had a fear of people in uniform, was shot in the back as he ran away from troops who stopped their armoured vehicle and followed him.
Hutchings himself has complained that he should not be prosecuted. “They call it Troubles. It was a war zone,” he told the BBC.
Ms Dillon said British soldiers had acted with impunity.
They were “directly involved in state sponsored killings” and also in a campaign of “systemic collusion and state-sanctioned executions” through unionist death squads, she said.
“Any attempt to provide immunity to British soldiers and others who either directly, or indirectly through collusion, killed citizens is entirely unacceptable.”
However, the Berkshire MP insisted IRA figures had not being questioned about their role in the conflict. “So why is Dennis Hutchings being pursued? Why are we now facing the possibility of potentially many more veterans receiving the knock on the door?”
The British government has always rejected calls by republicans for a multilateral truth and reconciliation process to bring closure to grieving families. In December 2014, Sinn Fein agreed to a process of truth recovery in a deal which was never implemented.
Mr Cunningham’s nephew, Charlie Agnew, said the family wanted to know what happened. “The impact on the family has been massive. John Pat had a mental illness, he was a vulnerable adult,” he said. “It’s weighed very heavily on my mother who is now 83.”
Another former British soldier said he was treated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a historical enquiries team interviewed him about the killings of mother-of-three Maura Meehan and her 19-year-old sister Dorothy Maguire in October 1971.
The women were unarmed passengers in a car which was fired upon by soldiers in the lower Falls area.
“They shot at us and we shot back,” said Rudkin. “Unfortunately the people in the car that died were two girls, both sisters.”
Maura Meehan’s daughter Margaret Kennedy, who is taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence over the killings, said Rudkin and other soldiers should realise that victims’ relatives are suffering similar trauma without getting specialist treatment.
“There shouldn’t be a law for them and another for everyone else,” said Mrs Kennedy.