The Great Betrayal or How We Became Victims of Political Witch Hunt: British Army Veterans Talk to Sputnik
By Evgenia Filimianova
© Photo: justicefornivets.com
A new documentary shines light on the injustice faced by security forces who served in Northern Ireland during the violent conflict, known as the Troubles. Sputnik spoke to former British Army soldiers who feel "sold out to the very enemy the fought in a forgotten war that successive British Governments have been too embarrassed to acknowledge."
The Great Betrayal film by the organization Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JNIV), to be released in a few months, tells the story of ex-servicemen in aftermath of the Good Friday agreement, where letters of assurance were sent to more than 200 Irish Republican Army (IRA) suspects, while members of UK security forces were "left exposed to prosecution."

"How can it be right for one side in a peace process to be given protection while the other is not?" is one of the questions posed in the trailer.

With 22,000 members all over Britain, Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans has been established to fight against what its members call a "one-sided witch hunt against security forces who served in Northern Ireland as part of the Operation Banner. The deployment of British troops to Northern Ireland started on August 14, 1969 and lasted for 38 years, becoming the longest campaign in British military history.

Commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, the Queen's Regiment, Brigadier Peter Hudson briefs his men at Palace Barracks Hollywood near Belfast in Northern Ireland on April 22, 1969, before they moved out to guard vital installations in the area. The army was called in after several bombing incidents damaged water and electrical supplies to the city.
© AP Photo, Peter Kemp
UK Media Portray Us in Poor Light
Co-founder of the group and former soldier Alan Barry told Sputnik that while the role of the Irish Republicans in the conflict is continually portrayed in a positive light by British mainstream media, while British forces veterans are left to scrape for representation.
"We started to make this documentary because the BBC and other UK broadcasters seem to romanticize the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and look for controversial stories that show security forces in poor light.

Effectively, our own national broadcaster are looking for sensationalism, never going into detail about the true nature of the IRA atrocities.

Whenever they do give us coverage, they say it's for balance. But when they interview IRA or someone connected to IRA, they give them more airspace than to the security forces that fought these terrorists.

The BBC are no friends of the British military and they have never been. They seem to revel in sensationalist stories that portray the security forces in a poor light," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.
© Photo: CC0
Mr. Barry has been invited to take part in BBC's Sunday Morning Live and Spotlight programs but, according to Mr. Barry, compared to other speakers, he was given less airtime.

The matter of British Army veterans facing prosecution has also been covered in online reports by the BBC.

Other mainstream media giants, such as Sky News and ITV, have never expressed interest to JNIV in covering the issue on TV, he added.

In early February, during a sit-down interview for BBC One's The Andrew Marr show, former leader of the Irish republican political party Sinn Fein Gerry Adams spoke about his connection with the IRA.

Adams explained why he had not joined the IRA, having repeatedly denied he was a member — "because I was active in Sinn Fein when the IRA was non-existent in the 1960s."

"My position has been consistent that I was not a member of the IRA but I've never distanced myself from the IRA. I did defend the IRA but I also was very critical of the IRA. I don't condone everything that the IRA did."
The prominent Irish leader, who for decades defended republican violence but was instrumental in its cessation, reflected on the "awfulness and horror of war."

"I would wish that no one had been killed or injured in the course of the conflict."

In his turn, Mr. Barry condemns IRA violence, pointing to the "hypocrisy of Sinn Fein and the Republican movement where they continuously accuse us of state-sponsored war and murder of innocent civilians."
"No British soldier left his barracks with an intention of killing innocent civilians. We were there to protect civilians from the terrorists who preyed upon them. The IRA had no prison camp, the only prison camp they had was the graveyard," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.
An Irish Republic Army (IRA) mural on a wall in west Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006. © AP, Peter Morrison
JNIV are looking to release the documentary on Youtube, Netflix, Amazon and will also bid for TV airspace.

"It's a sad state of affairs — when we have to tell our story ourselves, when our own media are not willing to do it," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.
The Troubles and Operation Banner
The deadly conflict between the pro-Irish republicans and the pro-British loyalists — known as the Troubles — cost over 3,500 lives, mostly civilian, between 1969 and 1998.

In 1969 the British army were called in to establish control of the unrest in Northern Ireland, as the local police could not contain the trouble on the streets of Belfast and Derry (Londonderry being its British name).
The aftermath of riots in Shankill Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland around September 1969. © AP Photo, Peter Kemp
Initially, many Catholics welcomed the British Army's deployment, with strong hopes for ceasing violence directed at Catholic neighborhoods by Protestant paramilitaries and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). However, the British military intervention was also perceived as effective martial law, imposed by a foreign imperial army and designed to prop up the collapsing government in Stormont, Northern Ireland.
British troops in Belfast, Northern Ireland around 1969.
© AP Photo, Peter Kemp
The IRA began calling for all-out war against British soldiers, although mainstream IRA leaders rejected the strategy.

The situation worsened following the events of January 30, 1972 — now known as the Bloody Sunday — when thirteen people were killed by members of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army in Derry's Bogside, while the 14th victim of the shootings died in hospital four months later.
In this Feb. 2, 1972, file photo Pallbearers carry one of 13 coffins of Bloody Sunday victims to a graveside during a funeral in Derry, Northern Ireland, following requiem mass at nearby St. Mary's church at Creggan Hill. © AP
According to former soldier Alan Barry, the other side of the story is never the focus of media attention.

"There were over 700 British soldiers murdered in Northern Ireland — that's more than Iraq and Afghanistan put together. In the same year as the Bloody Sunday, over 170 servicemen were killed that year. We never hear about the 170 British soldiers. All we seem to hear from the BBC is content about those killed on Bloody Sunday. We never hear that the IRA were firing at British soldiers from behind the crowd. All we hear about is British soldiers shooting innocent civilians."

The conflict was ended in 1998, when the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, was reached in multi-party negotiations and signed on 10 April.
A young girl member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carries a flag during the movement's parade to the Milltown Cemetery, where the IRA buries its dead, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 2, 1972.
© AP Photo
'Restoration of Accountability'
During the Troubles, the Republicans accused British Army soldiers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) of operating a "shoot-to-kill" policy, where suspected criminals of Irish identity were alleged to have been killed on purpose without any attempt of arrest.

In 1992, families of IRA volunteers called on the British government to "come clean on Shoot-to-Kill" in the report titled Ambush, Assassination & Impunity.

The report was put together with the assistance of the Belfast-based organization Relatives for Justice (RFJ) that was founded in April 1991 by a number of bereaved families affected by the conflict.

"We, the families of Peter Clancy, Sean O'Farrell, Patrick Vincent, and my own brother Barry O'Donnell, killed in a pre-planned, pre-meditated SAS shoot-to-kill ambush on February 16th 1992 at Clonoe, County Tyrone, this morning publish for the first time details of the circumstances surrounding these killings in this new report," the authors said.

One of the co-founders and CEO of RFJ, Mark Thompson, said in an interview published by The International Center for Transitional Justice:
"The police and British army raided our home. They returned days after the funeral in the early morning hours with an arrest warrant for my dead brother. Soldiers mocked my parents for speaking out. The police didn't care, they facilitated the process of impunity despite the prima facie evidence indicting soldiers. Sometimes [in other cases], they'd take the body and leave bullets in walls, spent cartridges – it was a treasure trove of forensic evidence, yet it was ignored.

"Our aim is for a restoration of dignity, for accountability for the violations that have been perpetrated, reparations and to deal with these issues in a very open and honest way. We can't build a society on a foundation of lies for the future. We have to address it."
Photo: Sputnik, Nikolai Gorshkov
Another family member of a man killed during the Troubles, Tarlac Connolly, spoke in an interview about his cousin Peter Ryan, an IRA man ambushed and killed by the Special Air Service (SAS) of the British Army in 1991.

"Our concern is not that it was a shoot-to-kill. They were involved in a war situation and that was the consequences of war. Soldiers do what soldiers do. Our concern is that our relatives were dragged off the road wounded after this incident, and burned and that breaks the Geneva Convention and is a war crime. We want the person who took that decision to face a war crimes tribunal in The Hague," Mr. Connolly said.
Veteran Memories
The legacy of the violent conflict continues to influence not only the lives of families who lost their loves ones but also the British servicemen, sent to Northern Ireland to uphold peace between the warring sections.
A British veteran shows his medal.
© Sputnik, Evgenia Filimianova
British Army veteran Kenny Nott, who served Northern Ireland in 1986 for four years as part of the Coldstream Guard, 2nd Battalion, spoke to Sputnik about his cause as member of the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group.

"The justice that we want stems back to the Good Friday agreement that Prime Minister Tony Blair has created with Sinn Fein and the IRA in Northern Ireland. This peace agreement gave immunity and letters of comfort to the IRA terrorists. They were released from jail — convicted murderers, responsible for killing men, women and children during their terrorist campaign."
Veterans Bill Loftis and Kenny Nott in London.
© Sputnik, Evgenia Filimianova
Former solider Kenny Nott served in South Armagh, which was under the nickname "Bandit Country."

"There were a lot of IRA snipers, shooting at British soldiers on patrol from a distance and then disappearing to the night. It was their tactics. This is what we had to contend with, as well as the bombs, the improvised explosive devices they created. We also had to keep the peace with riots, domestic violence taking place. We tried to keep two factions in Northern Ireland apart — the Protestant and the Catholic community," he told Sputnik.
Photos: Members of the group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans in London. © Sputnik, Evgenia Filimianova
Mr. Nott is calling for fair treatment of the veterans who were not included in the "one-sided" Good Friday agreement and are now "victims of political injustice."
Comfort Letters
Ever since the Good Friday agreement, the British government has tried very hard to make sure it works in Northern Ireland to sustain peace and stability in the region, Professor of Political History at Queen's University in Belfast, Graham Walker, told Sputnik.

"It has become clear that a number of compromised and concessions has been made around that agreement in terms of getting prisoners out of jail, giving them a pardon."

Under the 1998 peace deal drawn by then British PM Tony Blair and the Irish Republicans, the On the Runs (OTRs) scheme, was launched a year later when over 200 paramilitary suspects were informed they were no longer wanted by prosecutors. The scheme did not apply to those who had not been charged or who had been convicted but escaped.

The existence of the letters only emerged in 2014 following the collapse of the trial of John Downey, who was charged with murdering four soldiers in the Hyde Park bombing. Downey was a suspect in the 1982 IRA bombing in Hyde Park, which left four soldiers dead after a nail bomb tore through the ranks of the Household Cavalry on a Changing of the Guard procession. In May 2013 Downey was arrested as he entered the UK and charged with the murders but the prosecution collapsed after it emerged he had been sent a comfort letter.
The comfort letters scheme has come under sharp criticism, with the First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson calling it a 'murky deal' in 2014.
Tony Blair insisted the policy was "not an amnesty" and was "not secret" when he was questioned by a House of Commons committee in 2015 on his role in sending letters to scores of fugitive IRA members.

No comfort letters have been issued to members of the British Army, who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, leaving them exposed.
"A veteran is an extension of the government. When you are in the armed forces, you do as the government tells you. Therefore, to bring us on trial for doing our job — they should bring the government on trial instead.

They could knock on any door," Bill Loftis, British Army veteran who served in Northern Ireland, told Sputnik.
© Photo: justicefornivets.com
The door "they knocked on" belonged to Dennis Hutchings.
The Dennis Hutchings Case
A British Army veteran, 76-year Dennis Hutchings has been charged with attempted murder of IRA suspect John Pat Cunningham, 27, who died in a fatal shooting more than 40 years ago.

Mr Cunningham was shot in the back as he ran away from a British Army patrol near Benburb, Co Armagh at the height of the Troubles in 1974.

Hutchings is to stand trial, despite having been previously assured in the past he would not be dragged before the courts. Following the investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team in 2011, he was told then, that no further action would be taken. Despite this, in 2015 the Legacy Investigation Branch reopened his case.
"Dennis Hutchings was my serving major. I remember the incident. We are in Armagh in 1974 and it went off. He was cleared by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and then suddenly 40 years later they want to try him with no additional evidence. It is all wrong. We have a few MPs on our side but that's it. No one is listening to us. How can you bring people to court 40 years after the incident when you got IRA murderers walking around cities?" Bill Loftis told Sputnik.
Alan Barry believes the case against Hutchings is politically motivated and driven by Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. He is confident there is no evidence to suggest Dennis is guilty. Hutchings' case was reopened by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) following a re-examination of what was called new evidence.

According to Mr. Barry, the file of new evidence was analyzed by a number of police experts outside the investigation, who wished to remain anonymous. They pulled the case by the PSNI apart, pointing to numerous breaches of police procedure during Hutchings' arrest on April 21, 2015.
Photos: Notes by police experts on Dennis Hutchings' case
"It is a witch hunt, a persecution of a 76-year old great grandfather who has been given 2 years to live. He has got kidney failure," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.

The prosecution led by judge Seamus Treacy announced Mr. Hutchings — who was in charge of the Army patrol that day — fired three shots, and that he failed to give a correct warning to Mr. Cunningham.

Mr. Justice Treacy made a decision to commit Hutchings to trial. According to Mr. Barry he was one of the two judges who - when appointed to the bar, as the Queen's council — refused to swear the oath of allegiance to the Queen because he said it was against his Republican principles.

"How can this judge be deemed impartial? It was decided that Dennis should face a judge-only trial. How can that be right? He might as well be in front of a kangaroo court," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.

British army veteran Kenny Nott has also voiced his concern over the fairness of a judge-only trial and the precedent the case creates for other servicemen.
"If there was a jury he would stand a better chance because many minds would form the decision, whereas one person can be politically influenced. If this case with Dennis Hutchings goes through, then there is a precedent. Once the precedent has been made, that opens floodgates for the rest of us. It wouldn't happen in any country in the world. Other countries respect and protect their veterans. Only the UK could let it happen," Mr. Nott told Sputnik.
© Photo: CC0
Hutchings' last hearing took place on December 15, 2017, when no pleas entered against charges. Hutchings was granted continuing bail to a date to be fixed, according to a statement by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service sent to Sputnik.
Price of Peace?
Following the 1998 peace deal struck in Northern Ireland, the British government has put an emphasis on preserving stability in the region.

In 2010, the then prime minister, David Cameron, has told the House of Commons in his speech on the Saville Inquiry by families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday:
"Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past twenty years…and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future."

A year later Cameron — while addressing the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland — stressed he wanted "to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland for everybody."
Professor Graham Walker believes the UK government do not wishing anything to upset the balance struck in 1998.
"The dynamic here from the British government's point of view since 1998 has been to tie Sinn Fein into the workings of the government in NI, to make NI stable. That may involve compromises, which to the British veterans, look to be unbalanced. To them it looks as if the British government made them the price of this. That would be their perspective. They would not, I suppose, have the fullest appreciation of the delicacy of the situation in NI since 1998 because the peace that has held — has been very uneasy," Professor Graham told Sputnik.
© Photo: CC0
Among other issues threatening the fragile peace in Belfast are the legacy of the conflict, failure to restore a power-sharing government, disagreement over the Irish Language Act championed by Sinn Fein and questions over the nature of the DUP-Tory coalition.
"There is no agreement between the unionists and the nationalists over what the conflict was about and who the victim is. There are continuing political conflicts about the way the Troubles should be remembered and the issues still hanging from that time.

"Sinn Fein demands an Irish language act, which Unionists regards as Sinn Fein's way of achieving a kind of cultural supremacy. The population balance is getting to 50/50 [Catholic and Protestant]. A lot of people feel that in the near future there will be a majority of the Catholic community, which would lead to eventual vote for a united Ireland.

"There is a fine political balance in NI at the moment." Professor Walker told Sputnik.
This is a July 25, 2016 file photo of of Arlene Foster, left, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, during a meeting in Belfast.
© AP Photo, Charles McQuillan
Nationalist rioters hold the Irish flag as they face riot police in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, Northen Ireland, Thursday, July 12, 2012. Trouble broke out after an Orange Order march passed the area. The Twelfth of July is the busiest day of the marching season in Northern Ireland with thousands of Orangemen and women, accompanied by marching bands, taking part in hundreds of parades. The Orange Order holds its main Belfast event, which commemorates King William III's 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over Catholic King James II.
© AP Photo/Peter Morrison
However, to veterans like Alan Barry, the political antagonism between the major Northern Ireland parties and their grueling relationship with the current leadership in Westminster are just another reminder of older issues that never got resolved.
"The authorities here on mainland are relying on the DUP to form a government in the UK. Therefore the DUP have a lot of influence. And we have a situation where the DUP cannot agree with Sinn Fein. As veterans we find that when there was war in Northern Ireland, we were sent there to stand between two warring factions: the unionists and the Republicans.

"And today — 30 years later — we are still stuck in the middle. You got the unionists and the Republicans and the veterans are in the middle and if they have to throw a few old veterans under a bus to keep themselves in power — that's exactly what they'll do," Mr. Barry told Sputnik.
© Photo: Sputnik, Evgenia Filimianova

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