The PM must legislate to end disgraceful trials of former soldiers

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 5 May 2021. © Richard Kemp

What is going on in the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service? Just four days in, the trial of two veterans accused of murdering IRA serial killer Joe McCann collapsed for lack of evidence against them. Senior detectives responsible for the Historical Enquiries Team investigation warned prosecutors the case was going to fail. The former deputy director of the team wrote of the intention to prosecute: ‘In over 40 years of investigative experience, I can honestly say I have never encountered such an appalling injustice.’

Yet, relying on legally inadmissible military statements from half a century ago – ‘dressed up and with a new 2010 cover’ as the judge put it – the PPS carried on regardless in what can only be described as a parody of justice. The costs of their bungling have been high. For more than a decade of investigations, the two distinguished former soldiers – both in their seventies – have been put through hell, their lives on hold, their future liberty uncertain. Meanwhile Joe McCann’s family has been strung along, given false hope that their perceptions of injustice would be remedied in court. And the British taxpayer has footed a hefty bill – with trial costs alone estimated at £5 million.

Can the PPS with its army of highly trained lawyers, including 50 public prosecutors in Belfast alone, really have been so incompetent as to allow all of this, or is there a more sinister explanation? Convicted terrorist murderers have been let out of jail early and pardoned, and suspects who have evaded justice so far handed ‘comfort letters’ preventing their future trials. In this context, many politicians, lawyers and military officers have long believed that prosecutions of former members of the security forces who confronted these killers are politically motivated, intended to appease Sinn Fein. The outcome of this trial can only reinforce that view.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland, MI5 and the Garda, the Irish (more…)

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism