Mr Lewis announced plans last month for a Statute of Limitations, which would outlaw prosecutions against ex-soldiers for incidents that happened before a specified date – widely expected to be the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. At the time the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement warned the legislation “cannot… give equivalence between security forces and perpetrators of terrorism”. But after talks yesterday, the group said the proposed law promised an end to “show trials” and “repeated vexatious prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans…previously cleared of wrongdoing”.
In a hard-hitting statement, former SAS soldier Robin Horsfall condemned what he called the £500million “lawfare” campaign which he said put old soldiers on trial while terrorists walk free.
Under Tony Blair’s Good Friday Agreement, 500 terrorists were released from jail and up to 300 suspects were told they would not be prosecuted. But about 230 Army veterans are still facing reinvestigation over historic incidents. Mr Horsfall slammed Mr Blair’s “secret deals” and accused him of “deliberately failing to provide protection for security forces”.
After being assured by Mr Lewis that legislation to end the witch-hunt will be introduced in the autumn, he said: “The Statute of Limitations proposed by…Brandon Lewis offers a way forward for those who served in Northern Ireland.
“This Statute, combined with an end to legal aid and funding for legacy cases, will stop this…deeply flawed propaganda offensive. There will be no more show trials, no more legacy inquests costing millions of pounds, no more hugely expensive police inquiries directed at the security forces.
“With that guarantee in place, we will bring our full strength and influence to bear in support of any proposed legislation.”
The legislation has been rejected by all parties in Northern Ireland, partly because the Statue of Limitations will also apply to terrorists.
But Mr Horsfall said: “The simple and painful truth is that no terrorist will ever be convicted. That battle was lost with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.”
He added the NIVM hopes to get to a situation where veterans are “left alone to live their last years in relative peace without being pursued for political reasons”.