At the February meeting of Full Council, the Leader of Basildon Council, Cllr Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead), moved the following motion:
“Council notes its strong association with the armed forces through the Civil Military Partnership Board and having awarded Freedom of the Borough to the Royal Anglian Regiment.
Council deplores the persecution of any Basildon resident who is an ex-service man, many in their sixties, for carrying out their lawful duties to the crown. This Council supports the Daily Mail campaign and calls on Councils nationwide to do the same.”
Unfortunately, because we had reached the ‘guillotine’ (the cut-off point, at which the meeting had to end), Council was unable to debate the motion. Councillor Baggott nonetheless put the motion to the vote on the night and it was voted on without debate. I had intended to speak in favour of the motion and this is the speech I would have given.
“Councillor Baggott is quite right to raise the plight of Northern Ireland veterans facing these witch-hunt prosecutions. This is not something that should just concern veterans. It should be something that concerns us all.
Back in June of last year, 55 MPs stayed late into the night to support veterans and soldiers, to make the case for a statute of limitations to protect veterans from spurious ancient accusations. Forty-eight of those MPs were Conservatives. There were also six Unionists. It was disappointing that only one Labour MP attended that debate and I hope that the Labour Group here tonight will make up for that by supporting this motion.
Just recently, at Prime Minister’s Question, one of our local MPs, Mark Francois, raised the case of David Griffin, a 77-year-old former Royal Marine – now a Chelsea Pensioner – who is being reinvestigated for an incident that took place in the Province some 45 years ago, for which he was thoroughly cleared at the time.
It really is outrageous that we live in a country that signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, whereby 500 IRA terrorists were granted early release and some 300 suspects received ‘on the run’ letters telling them they would not be prosecuted, but our retired veterans continue to be prosecuted long into their dotage.
It is monstrous injustice of the gravest kind and goes to the very heart of the covenant we have with members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces; the men and women who lay their lives on the line for all of us.
Those who served in Northern Ireland across the 20 years of the Troubles went through hell and back just doing their jobs and serving their Queen and country. The idea they should now be targeted while IRA murderers walk free is nauseating.
I was gratified that the Prime Minister confirmed she has instructed the Attorney-General to examine this issue and find a legal solution and that the Defence Secretary has opened a unit within the Ministry of Defence to examine legal protections that could be afforded to ex-servicemen.
This is all to be welcomed. But we must keep the pressure up. It is simply not good enough. The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that many of these allegations against veterans are ‘vexatious’. This is wholly unacceptable and must be stopped.
Legacy issues are always difficult with a conflict as nebulous and bitter and the Troubles in Ulster. But there must be a way for Her Majesty’s Government to protect members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces from the kind of malevolent hounding we have seen going on, not just over Northern Ireland but Afghanistan and Iraq as well. Our serviceman and women should be protected from politically-motivated litigation and I whole-heartedly support the motion.”
I am pleased to say that, on being put to the vote, the motion was carried unanimously. A few weeks later, again at Councillor Baggot’s initiative, Basildon Borough Council signed up to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.