23 May 2006

British army urged to throw out criminals

Daily Ireland

By Connla Young

The British government has come under fresh pressure to throw out soldiers found guilty of murder, rape or torture.
Currently British soldiers found guilty of serious criminal offences are allowed to continue serving in the army.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan is pressing for the Armed Forces Bill, now going through Westminster, to be amended so that anyone found guilty of serious crime is given the boot.
The SDLP leader has long backed a campaign to have the killers of the Belfast teenager Peter McBride dismissed from the British army.
The 18-year-old was shot in the back near his New Lodge home in north Belfast in 1992 by Scots Guardsmen James Fisher and Mark Wright. The pair were released from prison in 1998 and allowed to rejoin the British army, in which both continue to serve.
The SDLP leader has also proposed an early-day motion outlining his concerns. It has received the support of more than 50 MPs already.
Mr Durkan said: “This is a matter of public confidence. People need to know that those they pay will uphold the law. It is a matter of public safety.
“The public should be protected by soldiers, not petrified of them. It is a matter of professional standards.
“The army’s own interest demands that soldiers adhere to basic rules. It is also a question of respect for the rule of law. If the courts find that somebody is fit for prison, they must be unfit for service. Above all, it is a question of respect for victims.
“How would any victim feel who finds that the killers of his or her loved one are thought good enough to serve in the armed forces?
“What message does that send? How does that devalue the life of the victim?”
The SDLP leader said the current regulations must be changed.
“Since Peter’s murder, over 2,000 soldiers have been discharged from the British army for offences right down to smoking cannabis.
“One major was dismissed for cheating on the gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Yet those convicted of the greatest crime of all — the deliberate and unjustified taking of life — are allowed to stay.
“And let’s be clear. This is not a Northern Ireland issue. It is an issue that affects us all.”

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