A frightening direction

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The attempt to close the book on Bloody Sunday is an insult to the victims’ families and to the rule of law. It is a stark indication of where this British government is headed, writes former British soldier Richard Rudkin.

 

The decision last week by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service not to charge any other former British soldiers over the Bloody Sunday killings in January 1972, when 13 civilians were fatally shot with a further 15 wounded, must have come as a major disappointment to the families of the victims that have campaigned for almost five decades for justice.

This decision leaves only one former British soldier, known as Soldier F, to stand trial, charged with the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murder of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

Taking to Twitter to voice his approval of the decision, former soldier Richard Kemp posted: “Sinn Féin-IRA’s campaign to rewrite history runs into trouble as the decision not to prosecute 15 former soldiers over Bloody Sunday upheld. But Soldier F will be in the dock. One junior rank to carry the can for all that happened on that terrible day.”

Kemp has a history of speaking out in defence of former soldiers facing allegations of shootings. However, like many so-called commentators on the Troubles, their views are biased and they spew out incorrect facts which go unchallenged while wanting to make the starting point of the war with the IRA where it suits their argument — and not where it really began.

The reason for this is twofold. One is pure ignorance of the facts of the Troubles and the other, in the case of Kemp anyway, is that although he served during the Troubles, he was not in the North of Ireland at the beginning or the height of the violence in 1972.

Kemp’s accusation that it was the “Sinn Féin–IRA campaign to rewrite history” that “ran into trouble” is both wrong and offensive to the families of the victims murdered on that day and serves no purpose in the healing process for all involved regardless of the role played.

For the families, it was not a question of rewriting history but a case of not accepting the original findings of the Widgery Tribunal held immediately after the event which was widely criticised as a whitewash.

It has only been the hard work and dogged persistence of the families of the victims, by gaining the support from their political representatives along with other agencies, that has managed successfully to get the incident reinvestigated — and been successful also in clearing the names of the victims at the Saville Inquiry, which took 12 years to complete at a cost of approximately £195 million — and for the families, many sleepless nights.

However, Kemp is correct on one point. It appears Soldier F will be the only former member of the British army in the dock — as Kemp put it, to carry the can. Yes, that is completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be there. I would argue that more senior officers of the British Army should also be standing beside him along with, possibly, various members of agencies of the British government.

However, that is not the case. While Kemp is completely wrong about Sinn Féin wanting to rewrite history, if he had said Sinn Féin has played a part in supporting the families to obtain truth and justice and by doing so has managed to change the status of those shot dead from being labelled terrorists to that of innocent victims, then yes, he may have been right.

Why wouldn’t they? Do we not expect our political representatives to act on our behalf regardless of political party? Aren’t truth and justice part of the values that MPs continually remind us that terrorists “envy” us for?

However, obtaining the truth while facing a government in denial is never going to be easy. A glimpse at just what the families have been up against was played out in Parliament on September 30, during “Northern Ireland questions” put to Brandon Lewis.

Colum Eastwood, leader of SDLP, told the story of the killing of 12-year-old Marjella O’Hare in County Armagh in August 1976. This young girl was shot twice in the back by a British soldier, seconds after passing through an army checkpoint, and died soon after from her injuries.

Eastwood asked the Northern Ireland Secretary if he thought that the paratrooper should be immune from prosecution. Of course, Lewis wouldn’t comment on O’Hare’s case and continued with a standard stock reply, avoiding incriminating the crown forces in any way.

However, the award for the most hypocritical answer to a question on the subject of the protection of veterans must go to Tory MP Johnny Mercer.

Replying to a question from another Tory, Mark Pawsey, who was seeking reassurance on behalf of one of his constituents that no service personnel or veteran should be prosecuted for carrying out what they had been trained for, Mercer, in addition to giving the reassurance Pawsey was seeking, claimed: “We [the government] are very clear, however, that a uniform is no hiding place for those who cannot operate within the boundaries we ask them to operate in.”

This is the same MP that previously told BBC Radio 4 he was withdrawing support for Theresa May’s government over the historical prosecution of servicemen and women. So, on one hand, Mercer states that a uniform is no hiding place for any soldiers that, to use my words, acts above the law, while on the other hand refuses to play ball until all investigations of former military personnel, that may reveal that a minority of British soldiers had acted above the law, are dropped.

If there is no hiding place for a person in uniform who has “operated outside of the boundaries” maybe Mercer could explain why he is so keen for this government to push through some kind of statute of limitations or amnesty that would not only do exactly the opposite to what he claims, and also deny justice to victims like O’Hare.

If this is the direction of travel by this government, it should be a warning to us all.

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