Legal advocate ‘needed for veterans’

Michael McHugh, PA

An independent legal adviser is needed to stand up for ex-soldiers in court proceedings involving the Northern Ireland conflict, the Veterans Commissioner has said.

People who took huge risks for peace should not become political footballs during investigations into past violence, Danny Kinahan added.

State forces were responsible for a tenth of deaths during 30 years of bloodshed but a greater percentage of prosecutions involve the security services, he said.

Hyde Park bomb justice campaign
Danny Kinahan (Philip Toscano/PA)

Mr Kinahan said: “If there is an area that is missing it is probably having legal advice and being able to stand up for veterans with more of a legal power.

“I don’t think it is my office’s job but at the same time I do need someone doing it to actually hold everyone to account, what is written on social media or the media, and actually start defending veterans.”

An elderly British ex-soldier is facing prosecution on two murder charges relating to Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

Soldier F is one of many former service personnel who have been prosecuted or quizzed by lawyers during inquests investigating historic deaths.

Often the Ministry of Defence is legally represented during proceedings.

Mr Kinahan said: “The state kept records and we know that the other sides did not keep records. They have a code of honour that they will not tell what they have done.

“The whole thing looks lopsided.”

Many ex-soldiers have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and some have committed suicide following their service, he told a Westminster committee.

Others have been sleeping in cars as their lives have gone off the rails.

Some need speedy access to official support and healthcare, including operations for injuries incurred on duty, Mr Kinahan added.

The former soldier and MP said: “They want to be respected for what they did.

“They went out there on all of our behalfs and took huge risks and are still taking huge risks but they have been demonised for doing it.”

He said a pension for military widows also required action, while giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs on Wednesday.

The Troubles saw the longest continuous campaign in British military history, known as Operation Banner.

Around 300,000 served in Northern Ireland during decades of sectarian violence amid bombings and shootings involving the IRA and loyalists.

Some soldiers were in the Ulster Defence Regiment or Royal Irish Regiment, Army units recruited in Northern Ireland.

Many others were from the rest of the UK and left after tours of duty with physical and mental scars which still linger.

Mr Kinahan was appointed Veterans Commissioner last autumn and is attempting to reach as many former service personnel as possible.

He said they did not see themselves as victims and were not used to asking for help.

Not keeping a central record of their whereabouts made sense to protect them from attack by paramilitaries and many have moved on and are hard to trace, he added.

“I need to make sure veterans are seen up there alongside victims and survivors.”

The Government is considering future investigations into the violent legacy of the past.

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