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'BAD FOR MORALE' TO CHARGE TROOPS; Army memo to top lawyer after 1971 killing.

Byline: EAMONN MacDERMOTT

PROSECUTING soldiers for shooting civilians would have been bad for morale, Northern Ireland's top lawyer was warned in a secret document released yesterday. The 1971 memo between a senior official linked to the British Army Headquarters here and Attorney General Sir Basil Kelly, was unearthed by the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry.

The human rights group found the paper during research into the shooting dead by a soldier in 1971 of Billy McGreanery.

A Historical Enquiries Team probe earlier this year into the death found that Mr McGreanery "was not carrying a firearm and he posed no threat to the soldiers".

The HET report revealed Supt Frank Lagan, the top RUC man in Derry at the time of the shooting, had recommended a prosecution of the soldier who shot Mr McGreanery at the top of Westland Street in Derry on September 14.

The document records Sir Basil felt there was no call for a charge in the McGreanery case or that of a Belfast woman Sarah Worthington who was shot dead by a British soldier in her own home.

One section states: "I [the senior Army official] have no doubt that the Attorney General is doing all within his power to protect the security forces against criminal proceedings in respect of actions on duty."

The document goes on to note that Sir Basil was worried about the possibility of private prosecutions if he remained inactive in every case. Dated December 6, 1971, it goes on: "I [the senior Army official] am however satisfied that there is no need to remind him of the danger to morale inherent in prosecutions of soldiers or policemen."

The document also reveals there was "an agreement" that soldiers would not be prosecuted for anything without prior notification to Army HQ.

The author of the report notes he was "somewhat surprised" at three soldiers being prosecuted for dangerous driving and assault with no prior notification. Yesterday Paul O'Connor frm the Pat Finucane Centre said: "These documents show clearly that rather than have an impartial Attorney General looking at the merits of each case in the North in 1971 there was a culture of immunity for British soldiers created and sustained up to the highest legal office in the state at the time - the office of the Attorney General.

"The message being sent out loud and clear was that soldiers would not be prosecuted regardless of the circumstances if the actions they were being accused of were carried out while they were on duty.

"Even things such as dangerous driving were discussed at this level and there was concern about soldiers being prosecuted for this. "We have already seen how in the McGreanery case the Attorney General decided to ignore the recommendation of senior police officers who said the soldier involved in Billy McGreanery's death should be prosecuted.

"But these d o c u m e n t s reveal that this was not a one-off but part of a systematic attitude that saw British soldiers on duty as being above the law.

"It is hard to envisage just how differently the course of events here would have been if had been made clear from the start that soldiers would be prosecuted if they shot innocent people.

"Perhaps if that had been the case in 1971 we would never have had Bloody Sunday and all that flowed from that."

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ADVICE nJustice Basil Kelly KILLED 3 William McGreanery was shot dead
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 14, 2010
Words:578
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