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Former Beds Chief warns against halting historic NI prosecutions

Plans to end Northern Ireland prosecutions linked to the Troubles are a miscalculation, according to Jon Boutcher.

Jon Boutcher

Jon Boutcher

Date - 16th July 2021
By - Chris Smith
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The man overseeing Operation Kenova has warned against plans not to prosecute people responsible for killings during The Troubles.

Jon Boutcher, the former Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, said plans for a statute of limitations did not have support from veterans or families.

His comments followed the statement from Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis which proposed a peace and reconciliation process and an end to prosecutions for offences committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Boutcher leads Operation Kenova which has investigated the case of Stakeknife, the Army’s top agent within the IRA.

He said: “The rule of law has stood us incredibly well. To take away the hope, the prospect, the potential of justice for these families, and these are some of the most heinous crimes committed in the United Kingdom in modern history, certainly doesn’t sit with me comfortably.”

He added: “I’m sure I speak for all the police service, and actually all the military, it’s the rule of law that sets us apart. I think it is a miscalculation to apply a statute of limitations in the name of the veterans.”

His position echoed that of families of victims and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland as well as politicians.

A major factor in the government’s decision had been prosecutions of former British Army soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland.

Two former paratroopers were recently acquitted of murder and another former soldier, Denis Hutchings, is awaiting trial for a charge of attempted murder dating back to 1974.

Mr Boutcher said: “They are proposals, but let’s not beat around the bush here, there is a clear agenda from the Conservative government to protect veterans.

“I speak to veterans all the time. The military have been incredibly supportive of Kenova, they have been responsive, they have given us answers, and whether suspects or witnesses, the relationship has been a good one," he said.

“So, the veterans I speak to very much do not support that type of statute of limitations.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis set out plans for a reconciliation and restorative justice process instead of prosecutions for offences committed before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. This would include the setting up of a new independent body with full powers to obtain information around unsolved killings in order to provide information to victims' families. 

Mr Lewis revealed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has 1,200 historic cases currently open and at least two-thirds date back more than 40 years.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) says government proposals for dealing with the past must be fair to officers and ensure they receive the same protections under the law as all sections of society.

The Fed remains opposed to cases being taken away from the force but said it was ‘academic’ because if the plans go through unchanged in the autumn then no-one would stand trial.

Brandon Lewis justified his approach on the basis of the time lapsed since the offences were committed and the backlog of cases.

At the current rate, it will take PSNI officers 20 years to solve them with an unrealistic prospect of achieving prosecutions.

Legislation will be set out in the autumn with a statute of limitations preventing prosecutions for offences that happened before 1998.

The new independent body will focus on the recovery and provision of information about Troubles-related deaths and most serious injuries.

Mr Lewis told MPs: “This body will be focused on helping families to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones. Where families do not want the past raked over again they would be able to make this clear.

“For those families that want to get answers, the body will have the full powers to seek access to information and find out what happened.”

Mr Lewis said another proposal included a “major oral history initiative”, adding: “It’d create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives related to the Troubles and, crucially, to learn about those of others.”

PFNI Chair, Mark Lindsay MBE, said the cut-off of 1998 means the relatives of hundreds of police officers murdered during ‘The Troubles’ will potentially be denied justice and investigations into thousands of attempted murders of police officers set to one side.

“I’m not happy that this legislation could be seen to create equivalence between terrorists and police officers who worked tirelessly to save lives. Any such link would be abhorrent and without any justification. We will work to ensure there is no such equivalence in the legislation,” he added.

He also argued that former Royal Ulster Constabulary officers accused of wrong-doing would be denied the chance to clear their name in a court of law.

But he also accepted that attempting to hear cases dating back at least 40 years would be challenging.

Mr Lindsay said: “Drawing a line in the sand will leave many people feeling abandoned and ignored. However, we have to look at these matters in the round and enter a process which sets out a reasonable chance of conviction.

“That becomes increasingly difficult with the passage of time and the failure of this issue to be dealt with under the Good Friday Agreement has meant that many will never see justice.”

The statement to Parliament is a first step and is likely to change; the Irish government said it was opposed to the proposals and expected major revisions.

A critical issue for the government to resolve will be how to compel offenders to reveal their roles in the atrocities that left thousands dead or seriously injured.

Mr Lindsay said: “Truth is a two-way street and there are many who were involved in terrorism who could be much more forthcoming with information that would give closure to thousands of victims.

“I have always said we should follow the evidence in a manner which will deliver truth for so many families across society who have lost loved ones.”

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Treated Like S**t Rat - Mon, 19 July 2021

Mr Springbok has a pretty good grasp of the situation.

Unfortunately Tony Blair and Gen De Chastalain put pay to a lot of the hopes of the veteran communities