There it was today bold as brass on the BBC website 'Police in Northern Ireland have given a commitment not to arrest any more former soldiers over the Bloody Sunday killings until a legal bid to stop the murder investigation has been heard.' Ye couldn't make it up!
Was I surprised to read this? Honestly, not one bit! I was just surprised that it took so long. It seems the old boys network known to you and I as the British justice system is looking after its own. Where else in the world would participants in a war crime have pending and long overdue arrests delayed in the light of a legal challenge to stop them being arrested?
The obvious question of course is what legal authority does the PSNI have to give any commitment to murder suspects that they won't arrest them?
Now on the subject of the old boys network the British Government appear to be involved in an additional attempt to look after their own as is evident from reading the Armed Forces Bill which was introduced to parliament on September 16th 2015.
From reading the published explanatory notes I was particularly interested in clauses 7-12 and how these insert new sections into the 2006 Armed Forces Act. Section 304 A provides for immunity from prosecution (click here) The notes state immunity is offered: 'For any service offence in return for assistance given by that person to the investigation or prosecution of a service offence'. With this quote wide open to interpretation I would be justified in wondering if this new section will apply to past service offences linked to the period referred to as the troubles?
The Armed Forces Act applies to two categories of persons; persons subject to Service law (both Service personnel and ex-Service personnel). When a member of the armed forces has left the army for more than six months they cannot be charged with a service offence unless with the consent of the Attorney General.
I would also point out that; 'the Armed Forces Act has removed the bar that previously existed which prevented the Service authorities from having jurisdiction to prosecute certain offences (principally murder, manslaughter and rape) alleged to have occurred within the UK. Where such offences are committed in the UK by persons subject to Service law (or who were so subject at the time of the offence) the Service courts can now have jurisdiction.However, the civilian police will normally investigate and the civilian authorities with jurisdiction will normally prosecute such cases. The removal of the statutory bar provides certainty that the Service Police can conduct initial investigations'.
The PSNI is clearly reluctant to deal with the Bloody Sunday case they even contemplated transferring the case to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit as is proposed in the Stormont House Agreement. Therefore is it beyond the realms of possibility that this case could eventually fall within the remit of the military Service Court? By that stage the court may even be a position to offer immunity to those who co-operate during investigations.
5 years ago Bloody Sunday soldiers knowingly put forward false statements during the Bloody Sunday inquiry despite being given immunity. Here soldiers had the opportunity to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and chose not to. Lord Saville who chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry said that apart from the soldier identified as Private T, all the paras involved "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”. Despite this not one of those who committed perjury has been arrested for that offence either.
As I said in a previous blog the devil looks after his own.