'Not on my watch' – New British Army chief vows to protect Northern Ireland veterans against Troubles allegations

'Not on my watch' – New British Army chief vows to protect Northern Ireland veterans against Troubles allegations

THE new head of the British armed forces has said he will not allow ex-soldiers falsely accused of misconduct in Northern Ireland during the Troubles to face court "on my watch".

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter said allowing veterans to face trials over groundless allegations risked undermining the Army's fighting spirit.

He promised that veterans who do come under investigation would be looked after "to the best of our ability".

Speaking at a media briefing at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, Sir Nick claimed Troubles veterans were being "chased by people making vexatious claims" despite the British Army having done a "remarkable job" in the North.

"It is right and proper that if our soldiers have done something wrong then they should clearly be investigated. But only if they have done something wrong," he said.

Gen Nick Carter said Troubles veterans had been subjected to 'vexatious claims' (Image: Getty)

"We need to have standards, we need to have values that people are held against otherwise we will lose the moral high-ground.

"What is fundamentally wrong though is if they're chased by people who are making vexatious claims - and that will not happen on my watch. Absolutely not".

The General continued: "If you end up with a clutch of vexatious claims then that undermines morale and has the risk of undermining our combat ethos and our fighting spirit.

"I would absolutely stamp on any of that sort of activity."

Sir Nick's predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, previously said he was "deeply uncomfortable" at the prospect of veterans being investigated for misconduct alleged to have occurred during the Troubles.

Before stepping down in June, Mr Peach admitted he was "concerned" about how a potential statute of limitations on inquiries into historic allegations could play out.

Veterans have accused the UK Government of "betrayal" by not blocking investigations (Image: Getty)

A consultation document issued on the matter by NI secretary Karen Bradley does not include provision for a statute of limitations.

Writing in the Telegraph, Ms Bradley hit out at attempts by some to "rewrite the history of the Troubles to justify terrorism" and claimed the implementation of a statue of limitations could let terrorists off the hook.

"Some have called for a statute of limitations for veterans, but we believe that is not legally possible without extending it to the terrorists — something this Government could not support," she said.

Earlier this week, a 76-year-old ex-paratrooper accused the UK Government of a "scandalous betrayal" after being investigated for the attempted murder of two people in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the veteran was interviewed by police for attempted murder in April 2016 and said he has been left in limbo ever since.

Sir Nick added: "What we must try and remind ourselves about this whole Northern Ireland issue is actually what an extraordinarily amazing task the British Army did through 30 years in Northern Ireland.

"And we wouldn’t be in a position which we now are in if the British Army hadn’t done a remarkable job in getting us to that position — and I really hope that’s not forgotten in all of this."