London rally demands end to old soldiers tried over Northern Ireland

Bikers, British army veterans and their supporters join London rally demanding that no more old soldiers should be tried over historic Northern Ireland offences after trial collapse

  • Hundreds of bikers rode through London on Saturday to prevent veterans being tried over historic offences
  • MP Johnny Mercer led the respect our veterans march after the controversial trial against two paratroopers accused of murdering Official IRA leader Joe McCann effectively collapsed earlier this month
  • Government is reportedly planning to make British veterans and terrorists exempt from prosecution 

Hundreds of bikers rode through London with the support of veterans and even an MP as part of rally to prevent old soldiers being tried over historic offences committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  

Sacked minister Johnny Mercer led the Respect Our Veterans march on Saturday after the trial against two paratroopers accused of murdering Official IRA leader Joe McCann collapsed earlier this month.  

Mr Mercer was sacked by Boris Johnson after the PM refused to include Northern Ireland veterans in legislation protecting British troops who served overseas from prosecution.  

Hundreds of bikers took to the streets of London as part of the march, with flags adjourning their vehicles. Supporters and veterans gathered to watch and listen to speeches underneath the gaze of the famed statue of Winston Churchill

The march comes days after news broke that the government is reportedly planning to make British veterans and terrorists exempt from prosecution for incidents that took place before the 1998 Good Friday agreement.    

Any actions involving war crimes, genocide or torture however will not be included. 

Four soldiers have already been charged with offences including murder. A further 12 are awaiting decisions on prosecutions following historic investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

A veteran looks on as speeches are made close to the statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Attendees worn facemasks, some clear and some with flags on them, to adhere to coronavirus guidelines. 

Vehicles of all shapes and sizes took part in the rally, including three-wheeled ones. The vehicle represents the colours of Ireland and provides a shelter from the wet weather for passengers who want to take part in the rally.

Flags were flown across the rally, including ones such as this which calls for justice for Northern Ireland veterans, and tells the government to ‘stop the witch hunt now’. In the background, people gather at a safe social distance to watch the rally  

Sacked minister Johnny Mercer led the respect our veterans march on Saturday after the controversial trial against two paratroopers accused of murdering Official IRA leader Joe McCann effectively collapsed earlier this month. He gave a speech to a large crowd who had made their own posters and brought flags calling for the prosecutions to end. 

Big Ben, still undergoing renovation work, looms over the bikers who have travelled to London to show their support. 

Seven were members of a covert military unit made up of members of the SAS, Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment instructed to ‘eliminate’ suspected members of the IRA.

While a statute of limitations brought in by the government would protect the majority of these men from prosecution, it is unlikely to apply to cases that are already going through the courts.

Veteran groups have claimed that the prosecutions are politically motivated, and want the government to take action to prevent them. 

Protestors made signs like this one, calling for the ‘witch hunt’ to end and stop the prosecution of older veterans. 

People gathered on the sidelines as the rally of hundreds of bikers rode by from Trafalgar Square to Parliament to demonstrate their support for veterans and call on the government for change

The bikers were also part of the crowds, many of whom filmed the speeches coming from prominent speakers. They all wore facemasks, and many veterans came in military uniform, to adhere to guidelines laid out due to the coronavirus pandemic

Some bikers and members of the crowds had taken to customising their clothing to show their support. Pictured are two men with HM Forces Veteran on the backs of their jackets, and another saying ‘we will remember them today, tomorrow, forever’ 

The driver of one bike concentrates ahead while his passengers take in the moment and shout with the crowds that have gathered to see the rally pass by. One films the scores of crowds, likely not seen since before the pandemic, on her phone 

A crowd gathered as Mr Mercer was joined on stage by British soldier Dennis Hutchings to give a speech.

It comes after two former paratroopers accused of the murder of an Official IRA leader were formally acquitted at Belfast Crown Court after prosecutors offered no further evidence at their trial.

Mr Mercer has previously called on the Government to include veterans who served in Northern Ireland in a new Bill to protect soldiers from prosecutions.

The former Army officer left the Government last month after it emerged the Overseas Operations Act would not include soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.

In his resignation letter, he said he had ‘no choice’ but to leave after frustration at a lack of progress over the legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles.

Signs captioned ‘The Real Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Bloody Monday’ talk about the 12 murdered by the IRA on the M62 motorway on February 4, 1974. In the background, buses pass by as life begins to return to normal following the relaxation of lockdown rules

Signs also called for the end of trials of veterans who were involved in the Troubles, while cars pulled up to show flags and support for the rally and cause. 

British former Minister for Veteran Affairs, Johnny Mercer (R) speaks with British former soldier Dennis Hutchings at a ‘Respect Our Veterans’ parade

Hundreds gathered at the march. Pictured in the background is Parliament, where the rally headed from Trafalgar Square

The British flag flies above the heads of those who took part in the rally, with Parliament pictured in the background 

He said he had hoped Mr Johnson’s premiership would ‘signal a step change in veterans affairs in the UK’ and that he had raised his concerns in a face-to-face meeting with him.

The legislation, which gained royal assent in Parliament last week, was developed in response to legal claims made after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Overseas Operations Act will come into effect following the opening of the new Parliament on Tuesday.

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