On Monday 9th July during Defence Questions Henry asked the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon Gavin Williamson MP, whether he will bring forward legislative proposals for a statute of limitations to protect British armed forces veterans from prosecution for historic allegations.
It was a truly excellent and encouraging reply from the Secretary of State who stated: “I understand the concerns over whether serving personnel are receiving the legal protection and certainty that they deserve. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have established a dedicated team within the Ministry of Defence to consider this issue and to advise on the way forward. This work will be complementary to the work of the Defence Committee, which is looking at the specific question of how to protect our service personnel and veterans against historic allegations as part of its inquiry into this important topic.”
Commenting on the Secretary of States statement Henry said that: “I was delighted that the pressure myself and other MPs are putting on the Government is starting to bear fruit. For some time now I have been campaigning on behalf of veterans, this has partly come about as a result of discussions I have had with veterans in North West Norfolk who are shocked and appalled that a number of Northern Ireland veterans are being pursued and questioned about allegations that took place over 40 years ago.”
During the debate on Monday on the same day Henry raised the point that this current witch hunt against veterans is a dreadful scar on the Ministry of Defence and furthermore a fundamental betrayal of the Military Covenant. These young servicemen and women put their lives on the line working alongside the Police and other security forces in Northern Ireland between 1969-2001 they went there to maintain law and order, and time and again were put at extreme risk in incredibly tense and challenging circumstances. They showed remarkable restraint and only opened fire when either their lives were put at risk, or in circumstances of extreme provocation.
Henry also pointed out all of these allegations were fully investigated at the time and the overwhelming majority were closed down and the evidence destroyed, however, veterans are now being on charges such as attempted murder in respect of events which took place over 40 years ago. Quite often the evidence is not available, and many of the witnesses have passed away.
As Henry said: “How on earth can any veteran receive a fair trial under such circumstances. This is why this issue must be closed down, I do believe the only way forward is the Government to bring in a statute of limitations; of course the Secretary of States announcement is a good start but more must be done.”