Mercer: Prosecution of ex-soldiers should never have got this far
A Conservative MP and former veterans minister has said the attempted prosecution of two former soldiers in Northern Ireland for Troubles deaths should “never have got this far”.
Johnny Mercer said the idea of trying to get an understanding of deaths which happened 50 years ago was “deeply flawed”.
The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland said on Friday that the case against Soldier F for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972 will not proceed.
The prosecution of another veteran, Soldier B, for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in Derry later in 1972, will also not proceed, the PPS said.
Mr Mercer, a former Army officer, has repeatedly criticised the Government for its handling of legacy issues in Northern Ireland.
He left his ministerial post in April after expressing frustration at a lack of progress on legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles from prosecution.
The following week he attended the trial at Belfast Crown Court of two former paratroopers charged with the murder of a man almost 50 years ago, a process he said was “unfair”.
That case collapsed after a judge excluded statements given by the ex-soldiers about the shooting of Joe McCann in 1972.
That legal ruling led the PPS to review other cases and culminated in the decision on Friday not to proceed with the Soldier F and Soldier B prosecutions.
In a social media video, Mr Mercer responded by saying the Government has to “invest politically” in getting legacy right in Northern Ireland.
He said: “Two veterans who served in Northern Ireland have today had their cases dropped by the Northern Ireland prosecuting authorities; the cases should never have got this far.
“The idea that you can look back 50 years, and try and get a really granular understanding of what happened at the time and what was going through people’s minds, I think is deeply flawed, and we’ve seen that yet again in these cases.”
Mr Mercer continued: “My thoughts are with the families of the deceased who just want answers for their loved ones, and I have a lot of sympathy for them being dragged down this pathway by so called legacy practitioners in trying to seek a justice that is very, very difficult to see 50 years later, in a difficult and murky and bloody conflict of Northern Ireland.
“It just lays bare the Government’s broken promises on veterans.
“It is possible to do legacy well. It is possible to put families at the centre of it, and yet not destroy our veterans in the process, but we have to commit to it politically, we have to invest in it politically.
“We can move forward, we can achieve reconciliation in Northern Ireland, but we have to get legacy right, and I hope today is another step towards that.”