As a measure of the extent to which the world has been turned on its head since I was a young man, the title of this post probably sums it up. Barely a day goes by at the moment when I don’t despair at the gulf in my country between those who govern us and we who are governed.
For the first half of my working life, for 20 years, I served my Queen and country as a commissioned officer in the British armed forces. I served in the Royal Air Force’s embedded infantry Corps, the RAF Regiment. In the late 1970s and in the 1980s I completed what were known as ‘roulement’ tours of duty for 4 months at a time in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’.
Securing communities during a civil war is probably one of, if not the most difficult of soldiering tasks. It’s virtually impossible to do anything right in the eyes of either of the warring parties. Patrolling is a challenge because you’ve no idea who is the enemy. All you know is that at any moment a peaceful urban or rural scene can explode into extreme violence; and explosions – literally – into extreme violence occurred frequently in those days.
Fast-forward to today. The British (Conservative) government is pursuing another retired soldier, an ex-Parachute Regiment SNCO, for attempted murder. Allegedly, in 1972, Sergeant O fired a round which caused flying debris which inflicted injuries on a citizen on the streets at the time. Sergeant O was decorated for bravery during the same tour of duty.
Meantime, under the Good Friday Agreement, suspected former terrorists were handed secret letters by the British (Labour) government granting them immunity from prosecution (since rescinded, it is believed, but there remains some doubt about the government’s ability now to mount successful prosecutions). Indeed, the late Martin McGuinness – the man who headed up the Irish Republican Army during its most murderous phase – became Northern Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister without the slightest prospect of being investigated for his earlier career.
If prosecuting Sergeant O – one of many soldiers in the government’s firing line – isn’t gold-plated betrayal of those who risked their lives for the peace and security of the citizens of the United Kingdom, I don’t know what is. Both of the main political parties and, as usual it seems, their compliant political foot-soldiers, the political class, are guilty of an appalling desertion of their duty to the ‘Military Covenant’.
For some months I’ve been wondering how best to respond to this travesty but failed to identify what I thought might be an effective course of action, until now. Enter Colonel Tim Collins – he of the eve-of-battle speech (listen to it and see if you don’t weep) to his men in Kuwait before they crossed the Start Line during the Iraq War in 2003. I also served during the Gulf War of 1991 and, as it happens, the Falklands War in 1982. The purpose of this post is to share with my fellow servicemen (and women, of course) Colonel Collins’ proposed strategy for protesting against the political class’s betrayal of the British armed forces.
If you served in Northern Ireland either as a member of the armed forces or as a police officer, here’s what to do.
Write a letter to the addressees set out below. In your letter provide your name, rank and service number as it was during the time of your duty in Northern Ireland and the dates of your service in the country. Ask two questions in your letter: ‘Am I under investigation. If so, for what am I under investigation?’
Send your letter to: the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Mr George Hamilton; the Home Secretary, Mr Sajid Javid; the Northern Ireland Secretary, Ms Karen Bradley; and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Macguire.
Then, send a further copy of your letter to your Member of Parliament demanding that he/she pursues robustly a reply from each of the addressees of your letter; that is your right and your MP’s duty.
Here is a template of the letter proposed by Colonel Collins:
From: Mr/Ms J M Bloggs [Your name]
See Distribution [Date]
[Handwrite Dear Sir/Madam]
NORTHERN IRELAND – PROSECUTION OF BRITISH SERVICE PERSONNEL
I, [enter your full name and service number] served honourably in Northern Ireland in defence of my country, upholding the law, in the following periods:
[Dates from – to]
[Dates from – to]
[Dates from – to]
Am I under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland? If so, please inform me of the details of the date, place and alleged offence(s) for which I am under investigation.
I have asked my MP to pursue robustly a reply from you to me on this matter.
Chief Constable George Hamilton QPM
65 Knock Road
Rt Hon Kate Bradley MP
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
Dr Michael Maguire
Police Ombudsman’s Office
New Cathedral Buildings
11 Church Street
[Your MP’s Name]
Houses of Parliament
[Your MP’s email address]
Colonel Collins has pointed out that you could scan your letter and email it to each of the addressees which will save you the postage costs. Don’t forget to demand that your MP pursues this matter on your behalf. This means that you expect your MP to write to each of the addressees, demand a reply and share the replies with you. Colonel Collins also suggested that if you’re wary of using your home address, you could use the address of your Regimental Association (or Police Federation for police officers) for return correspondence.
I intend to do this – today. If you served your country during The Troubles in the armed forces or as a police officer, please would you do this too.
An acquaintance of mine, a local councillor politician contacted me about this post. He queried the wisdom of providing one’s name and service details to institutions in Northern Ireland. I replied by saying, first, it was of course Colonel Collins’ recommendation to take this course of action and I respect his proposal per se. Second, my personal view is that if we do nothing under these circumstances, the political class gets away with betraying the armed forces – and it won’t end. Third, if we’re cowed into not disclosing relevant service details then the protest becomes impossible or pointless. Fourth, I think one just has to have the guts to go public with one’s service details in a situation like this and calculate the risk of being taken out by the bad guys as a consequence.
An ex-military colleague of mine took a different view to my post above and emailed me accordingly. I asked permission to post my colleague’s views here, as follows:
The apparent unbalanced nature of the deal stands out like a blind cobbler’s thumbs, I agree. But it is an eternal truth of conflict that in every war in history, you end up sitting down with and living with your enemies. I am also deeply conscious that politicians, especially prime ministers, don’t get the easy decisions to take. A balance had to made by either Blair or Major between continuing the violence for the foreseeable future or making difficult concessions like this one. If this concession helped lay the basis for the IRA putting away their weapons, then I am not sure it was the wrong one. In any case, I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that the letters suggesting immunity for previous crimes have been rescinded. And I would agree that Martin McGuinness’s proper place is roasting in Hell and with any luck that is what he is doing. And I hope Jerry Adams joins him soon. But one cannot avoid the fact that they played an important part persuading their fellow murderers to give up violence.
Moreover, we in the Armed Forces were there to support the law. When all is said and done, the only thing that separates us from the terrorist is the rule of law. We are always answerable to the law and when we break it, we stoop to their level. Sgt O may feel hard done by but he was there to uphold the law and knew it, or should have done, and if he broke it, he should not expect not to be answerable to it. I hammered this point into my Marines every day during [my Commando unit’s] tour in 1995. Abide by the law and I will stand by you. Break it and you’re on your own. Betrayal? A bit strong I’d say, and a bit too Daily Telegraph/Daily Mail/Sun for my liking.
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