BORIS JOHNSON has slammed the potential trial of four British soldiers over the Bloody Sunday massacre as a "travesty", claiming the IRA have been allowed to "get away with" their crimes during the Troubles.
The former UK foreign secretary was responding to reports that emerged over the weekend that the former paratroopers could be charged with murdering 14 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry on January 30, 1972.
Back in 2010, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron apologised in the House of Commons for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" shootings, after Lord Saville's Bloody Sunday Inquiry exonerated the victims and acknowledged that none of them had posed a threat when killed.
In 2017, it emerged that Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) was considering prosecuting up to 18 soldiers who were involved in the massacre – while reports on Saturday said four ex-servicemen could be told on March 14 whether they will face murder charges.
Writing in today's edition of the Daily Telegraph, Johnson claimed there would be "a storm of utter fury" if the men were put on trial.
"It feels sickening that we are persecuting these elderly men for doing what they thought was their duty – in uniform, under orders, as members of the Parachute Regiment," Johnson wrote.
We mustn't let politics trump justice in this travesty of a Bloody Sunday trial. What signal does it send out to our brave armed forces? https://t.co/vV20RWWWoF
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) 3 March 2019
"These men are not terrorists... they did not get up in the morning with the intention of killing and maiming innocent civilians. What kind of a world is it – you may ask – where we can put former squaddies in the dock for murder, and simultaneously tell IRA killers that they can get away with it?
"Are we really proposing to send old soldiers to die in jail – after we gave dozens of wanted terrorists a get-out-of-jail-free card under the Good Friday Agreement? Is that balanced? Is that fair?"
The Conservative MP, 54, further claimed that although no one should be exempt from justice, it was now impossible to know the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday and that the marchers' deaths could have been the result of "confusion and panic".
He added: "The reason this whole thing stinks to high heaven – and the reason it should be denounced – is that there is absolutely nothing new for any trial to discover. The whole thing has been chewed and chewed again, supermasticated to oblivion
"So much of the evidence has been destroyed since 1972; and there is so much doubt about who did what and which bullet went where that the chances of a conviction are surely remote – and so we are driven to ask what the hell we are doing?
"And the answer is that it is not about justice. It is about politics."
Mr Johnson's column has been criticised by a number of Northern Irish politicians, with some questioning the former Mayor of London's definition of justice.
My understanding of justice system is that we let police investigate, PPS make decisions on prosecutions and courts decide based on evidence. That is the rule of law. Politics should stay clear of it. But I suspect that BoJo actually means that politics should trump justice. https://t.co/NjuSnGSXqp
— Stephen Farry (@StephenFarryMLA) 3 March 2019
Alliance Party deputy leader, Stephen Farry MLA, tweeted: My understanding of justice system is that we let police investigate, PPS make decisions on prosecutions and courts decide based on evidence. That is the rule of law. Politics should stay clear of it. But I suspect that BoJo actually means that politics should trump justice."
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard also responded to Johnson's comments by arguing that a trial would uphold international law by ensuring that armed forces were not able to act with impunity.
However, Conservative MP Johnny Mercer – a former British Army officer – said that prosecuting former servicemen over Bloody Sunday almost half a century later "seems wrong".
"Justice? I'm not sure. Standards must be upheld, but charging people almost half a century after incidents which have already been investigated once already, seems wrong," he said.
"Critical question for me is: any new evidence? If not, why is this being allowed."
John 'Jackie' Duddy, 17, Michael Kelly, 17, Hugh Gilmour, 17, John Young, 17, Kevin McElhinney, 17, Gerard Donaghy, 17, William Nash, 19, Michael McDaid, 20, James 'Jim' Wray, 22, William McKinney, 26, Patrick Doherty, 31, Gerard McKinney, 35, and Bernard 'Barney' McGuigan, 41, were all killed and over a dozen others injured when British paratroopers opened fire during an anti-internment march on Bloody Sunday.
The death four months later of a 14th victim – 59-year-old John Johnston – was attributed to injuries he suffered that day.