Norfolk MP calls for statute of limitations to protect forces veterans

Soldiers in Northern Ireland in the 1970s Picture: Archant library

Soldiers in Northern Ireland in the 1970s Picture: Archant library - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2008

Forces veterans should be protected by a statute of limitations against historic allegations over their conduct during conflicts, MPs heard today.

Some 3,500 died in Northen Ireland between 1968 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Opening the debate North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said: 'Of that number, 2,000 were killed by republican terrorists, 1,000 were killed by loyalist paramilitaries and 370 were killed by security forces. In total, 722 members of the security services, which mainly comprised serving British soldiers, were killed.

'No other army in the world would have shown the sort of restraint that our Army showed in Northern Ireland. The very fact that twice as many soldiers were killed by terrorists as terrorists were killed by soldiers illustrates that point.' Mr Bellingham raised the case of ex-soldier Denis Hutchings, 77, from Cornwall, who was leading a foot patrol in an area of County Armagh where bomb-making equipment had been found in 1974. They challenged a man behaving suspiciously to give himself up.

'He did not answer the challenge,' said Sir Henry. 'He moved away from the patrol. They thought they were threatened. They opened fire. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. It was an innocent civilian that was killed.'

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After a full investigation, the soldiers were told at the time no further action would be taken.

Mr Hutchings was questioned about the incident by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2011 and told no further action would be taken. In April 2015, his house was raided, he was arrested and taken back to Ireland for questioning before being charged with attempted murder.

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Sir Henry said: 'I do not think that any other country in the world would treat its veterans in this way.' He added the Minsitry of Defence and Government should draw a line under the issue. A private members bill is calling for a statute of limitations of five or 10 years to protect veterans.

'All they are asking for is not to be betrayed by the Government who they put their lives at risk for,' said Sir Henry.

Mark Lancaster, minister of state for the armed forces, said that a consultation had been launched and he urged MPs and veterans to contribute to it.

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