No ‘deal’ for soldiers

PREVIOUSLY secret documents released by Prime Minister, David Cameron’s office show that any possibility of ‘Bloody Sunday’ soldiers benefitting from an amnesty of any sort was already ruled out by the time the Saville Report was published.

Thursday, 8th March 2012, 9:51 am

The documents, released to the Londonderry Sentinel under the Freedom of Information Act on appeal after initially being withheld, include a number dated June 15, headlined “Top Level Lines and Q&A (post publication)”.

They include confirmation - despite a widely held belief at the time - of the Government’s view that soldiers facing prosecution would not benefit from the Good Friday Agreement’s early release scheme.

Updated on the report’s publication day, documents predicted questions from the media and provided Government responses especially on whether soldiers would benefit from the early release scheme established under the Good Friday Agreement. One ‘line’ concerned whether any prosecuted soldiers would benefit from the early release scheme set up under the 1998 peace deal.

But the prepared response said: “The early release scheme does not apply to offences as far back as 1972.”

A ‘follow-up’ question that might be faced by the Government was: “So IRA/loyalist murderers would serve a maximum of two years but soldiers could serve life?”

The prepared response to such a question was: “Anyone committing an offence before the introduction of scheduled offences in 1973 is outside the legal scope of the early release scheme (if pressed) True to say that members of the security forces are not eligible for release under the Good Friday early release scheme.”

Clause 3 (7) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act describes a “qualifying offence” for early release as one which: (a) was committed before 10th April 1998; (b) was when committed a scheduled offence within the meaning of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, 1978, 1991 or 1996.

Therefore, as the first Act came into being in 1973, no offences committed before that were covered in the early release scheme.

The same situation applies to all terrorist acts committed in years prior to 1973, including 1972, which is regarded as one of the bloodiest years of the Troubles. That year’s atrocities included the Claudy bombs, although hopes are fading that anyone will ever be prosecuted for that atrocity.

Because of the reasons outlined for the Act’s reiaon d’etre, it appears clear that the early release scheme was aimed only at terrorists and cannot apply to soldiers, no matter when an offence was alleged to have been committed.

The Public Prosection Service is currently considering the implications of the Saville report which found that all of the people killed and injured on Bloody Sunday were unjustifiably shot.

East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell said yesterday he did not think prosecutions were likely, but that it was “outrageous” that soldiers may not benefit from an early release scheme, while terrorists went free.

He said: “It would appear that soldiers who served on the streets of Londonderry during ‘Bloody Sunday’, if they were to be prosecuted and convicted for any ‘illegal actions’ they engaged in, would not qualify for early release as did so many terrorists throughout the troubles. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that the possibility of charges let alone convictions is unlikely, the principle of what is at stake here must not be lost on society as a whole.”

Mr Campbell said the Saville Inquiry cost around £200m and was established for “a clear political rationale”.

He continued: “The picture which now emerges however is that vicious cold blooded killers in the IRA and other organisations whose very reason for existence was to kill innocent people have already been the beneficiaries of an undeserved early release scheme while it could be the case that soldiers are not.

“Of course at whatever point after illegal acts have occurred, if information is forthcoming which implicates anyone then prosecutions should follow, but it would be totally unacceptable for cold blooded killers to get released early while soldiers dealing with terror are not.”