NEWBURY MP Richard Benyon has urged Ulster army veterans living in West Berkshire to ignore requests from the Government to assist with fresh investigations into Troubles-era killings.
Some shootings date back 30 or 40 years, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) now sending letters to former soldiers asking them to be witnesses in new inquests into the deaths.
However, Mr Benyon, who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, has branded the investigations a “witch hunt” and says veterans should not comply with MoD requests.
He told the Newbury Weekly News: “The police force in Northern Ireland have been asked to set up an investigative body to look into these killings, some of which have been investigated numerous times before, and the MoD has been asked to write to people, some of them now in their 70s and 80s, and it’s totally wrong.
“I have said quite clearly that any one in my constituency should ignore these letters.
“I have asked them to send me the details and the regimental associations should be giving advice to its members over this.
“There should be an active campaign of non-cooperation.
“The MoD has had to operate in a particular way. It has to co-operate with the devolved government in Northern Ireland, but the individuals do not.”
The conflict ran from the late 1960s and is generally accepted to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
During that time there were 3,500 deaths, with around 10 per cent said to have been at the hands of the security forces.
However, Mr Benyon claimed the fresh wave of investigations were “politically motivated”.
He said: “The police services in Northern Ireland do not want to do this.
“They haven’t got the resources, but they are being required to do it by the criminal justice system, who are politically motivated.
“I’m amazed that we’re still talking about this.
“I understand the politicians don’t want it to derail the peace process, but I’m equally determined that the peace process should not ride roughshod over people that have served this country.”
Mr Benyon served as a lieutenant in the Royal Green Jackets and was stationed in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1983, both at the border and in Belfast.
He said: “I saw myself, the incredible restraint that soldiers showed. Seven members of my battalion were murdered and as the news came through I was on patrol in Belfast.
“We were subject to incredible taunts about those murders and not one soldier did anything unprofessional.
“These are the stories we should be talking about and not reheating decades-old cases.”
Mr Benyon is now calling for a 10-year statute of limitations where no deaths perpetrated by a member of the armed forces can be investigated after 10 years.
“That reflects that evidential leads run cold after 10 years, but also people, veterans, can live in peace.”
Yesterday, Mr Benyon was able to raise the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions, to which Theresa May said the Government was “unstinting” in its admiration for the role the armed forces played in Northern Ireland, adding that any new investigations into legacy killings would be “fair, balanced and proportionate” and veterans would not be “unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated”.
However, referring to Mr Benyon, she told the Commons: “But, of course as he will understand, and he will appreciate the investigations by Police Service of Northern Ireland are of course a matter for them as they are independent of Government.”
Mr Benyon can be contacted at Richard@richardbenyon.com