The Ministry of Defence will be forced to hand over service records of British troops to help a police probe into the Troubles.
Officials will have no choice but to comply with the planned investigation into hundreds of veterans, many in their 70s, who served in Northern Ireland.
Personal details of the troops, their service records and any other documents relating to operations are likely to be requested, Whitehall sources said. This is set to make it much easier to prosecute British troops than IRA terrorists caught up in the legacy investigation.
MPs reacted with anger to the revelation last night, which followed the news that a proposed amnesty for UK soldiers had been dropped.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, above, told colleagues it would result in a fresh ‘witch-hunt’ of British troops. They now have no protection from prosecution and face being investigated over events from four decades ago
It had been hoped that British soldiers would be protected from prosecution during the investigation, which is being led by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Sources said Theresa May was ‘deluded’ if she believed that the probe would ensure IRA terrorists were investigated on the same scale as British troops.
Julian Lewis, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said: ‘The IRA didn’t keep full documentation of its terrorist activity. This is part of the asymmetry on the matter. We will have tried to behave by the book and that’s why it is so much easier to pursue a soldier rather than a terrorist. We followed the rules and they didn’t.
‘The Government must show some backbone on this issue. We close down options in the face of criticism instead of trying to fight our corner and negotiate in a tough manner.’
On Tuesday it emerged that ministers had dropped proposals for an amnesty and a statute of limitations for British troops who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
It had been written into a draft consultation document last year but was then taken out following opposition from Sinn Fein.
£500k to probe veteran, 77
The prosecution of a dying Army veteran over the killing of an IRA suspect 44 years ago has already cost taxpayers at least £500,000.
Before the case has even come to trial, the Ministry of Defence has paid to cover the legal fees of Dennis Hutchings, below. The total cost could pass £1million.
The 77-year-old is to face a charge of attempted murder over the fatal shooting of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, in June 1974. His supporters claim the case should never have been brought because there is no fresh evidence and no witnesses. Mr Hutchings, from Cornwall, has already been cleared twice. He said: ‘It is a disgrace this has dragged on for three years.’
Doctors say kidney disease will kill him within two years.
The removal of the key chapter that introduced age limits for those who could be prosecuted sparked a row in Cabinet.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told colleagues it would result in a fresh ‘witch-hunt’ of British troops.
They now have no protection from prosecution and face being investigated over events from four decades ago.
Speaking at PMQs yesterday, the PM defended the latest probe because she said it would mean terrorists would be investigated at the same time.
The Prime Minister said: ‘We have an unfair situation at the moment – that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our Armed Forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland – that is patently unfair.
‘Terrorists are not being investigated, terrorists should be investigated and that is what the Government wants to see.’
Under the plans, both soldiers and IRA terrorists would face ‘proportionate’ investigations.
But a Whitehall source said: ‘There is a delusion if people think this will create an even playing field.
‘The IRA are not sitting in offices with documents about where they attacked and when.’