Response to THIS article in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, 20/06/19
I’d like to respond to the article published last week regarding the protests against “Soldier F” facing charges for murder. As a former serviceman I find the attitude displayed in regard to this issue by many in the serving and ex-service community disturbing. This is an emotive issue, and one which we must take a step back from if we are to judge it on principles rather than pre-established positions. On principle I am firmly of the opinion that those who carry out criminal acts while serving in the forces should be punished for those acts. I cast my eyes around the globe and see cases where war criminals are pursued even when they are elderly and infirm, and rightly so. For many years many of my former comrades would have had the same response. For some that view has changed because they now see one of their own under the microscope, and are responding emotionally, their instinct being to protect a former comrade. This manifested itself in a campaign to ensure that ‘Soldier F’ would not face charges for what he did during his time in Northern Ireland. Historically this is not uncommon. After the English Civil War many soldiers petitioned parliament to be pardoned for all and any crimes committed during the war, fearing repercussions afterwards. Similarly, we now have veterans’ groups and MP’s calling for immunity from prosecution for troops past, present and future; and to me this is a dangerous path to follow.
The idea that we should apply standards of behaviour internationally to other countries armies that we don’t apply to our own is utterly wrong. If a member of the British armed forces commits a crime then they should be held accountable, even if that crime does not make it to court for many years. The ability to evade accountability is not a reason to escape prosecution.
The UK government has a long and distasteful track record of covering up that which it thinks may be damaging to it. The cases of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, and Maguire Seven are concrete examples of such activity in relation to Northern Ireland. The sinking of the Belgrano, the Hillsborough disaster and the miners’ strike at Orgreave are further examples of where the UK government has been found to have covered up its actions, or the actions of those in organisations working on its behalf, such as the police. It is not unthinkable that the British government have acted in a similar fashion in relation to Bloody Sunday.
In this case I won’t indulge of the whitabootery which has raged for years, over who fired first or who was involved. These are pointless arguments which are designed to generate heat, not light. As an ex-serviceman it is my sincere hope that ‘Soldier F’ is not guilty of murder, for if he is it is a stain on the British army that will never be erased. But as a matter of principle I believe that he must face trial to establish that innocence. The evidence must be presented, and the facts established. That would perhaps go some way to allowing the UK government to regain the trust it has squandered over decades and send out a signal that when it sets a standard of behaviour for its armed forces, its police, or its politicians, that it will uphold those standards, however uncomfortable they may be.