FEW people, I suspect, will have heard of Dennis Hutchings. Those who haven’t should quickly rectify this gap in their knowledge because, whether they are aware of it or not, they are indebted to him and to thousands like him.
But the Government and MPs which they, and we, have entrusted with the responsibility of discharging that debt on our behalf are resiling from their obligations and shirking both their duty and their own and their predecessors’ implied promise to him.
Mr Hutchings is one of those referenced in the quotation whose origin and precise words are disputed, but is attributed variously to Kipling, Orwell or Churchill: ‘We sleep easy in our beds because hard men stand ready to risk their lives on our behalf, to inflict violence on those who would do us harm.’
In Mr Hutchings’ case, those who would do us harm were the IRA, at the height of their murderous campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland, to try to achieve violently via the bomb and the bullet what they were unable to achieve peacefully and democratically via the ballot box.
In 1974, while a serving soldier in the Life Guards, he had to make a split-second decision, under stress, whether to allow what was thought at the time to be an IRA suspect to run away from a patrol in County Tyrone, or follow standing orders and open fire.
He insists, as he has done for the last 46 years, that he fired only a warning shot in the air. Another soldier, now deceased, also fired. The suspect was killed, but Mr Hutchings, now 78 years old and dying from kidney and heart failure, is before the Northern Ireland courts charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.
This is happening while the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is winding its way through Parliament. Its purpose, in the wake of British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to better protect former members of the Armed Forces from politically-motivated lawfare conducted by mainly Leftist human rights lawyers, in the form of (frequently found to be un-evidenced, or entirely without foundation) specious claims of unlawful detention and maltreatment.
In this respect, many TCW readers will recall the notorious and now struck-off solicitor Phil Shiner, but senior Labour Party politicians have by no means been blameless.
Readers will also recall Emily Thornberry going so far as to accept Christmas hospitality and a donation from Leigh Day, the legal firm accused of pursuing false torture claims against British soldiers, even while serving as Shadow Defence Minister.
Crucially, though, the current Bill as drafted would apply only to overseas operations. Thus it would exclude Northern Ireland, despite the Troubles having accounted for 722 British military deaths resulting from hostile paramilitary activity, compared with 454 in Afghanistan and 226 in Iraq during both Gulf Wars.
Axiomatically iniquitous as this should be, almost no objection to the Government’s exclusion of military service in Ulster from the scope of its immunity from historic prosecutions Bill appears to have been raised during its so-called ‘scrutiny’ by ‘Conservative’ MPs.
Why not? Was being shot at or bombed by the IRA or Loyalist paramilitaries somehow less risky than being shot at or bombed by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Taliban?
Where in particular was any protest from that formerly self-appointed champion of our military veterans and now a Junior Defence Minister with the same responsibilities, Johnny Mercer MP, from whom, having served in Afghanistan himself, one might perhaps have expected more?
Especially as in May 2019, he had pledged not to support the Government’s legislative agenda until it ended historic prosecutions, including any relating to Northern Ireland?
And as his brief from newly-appointed PM Boris Johnson on his promotion to junior ministerial office, a mere two months later, specifically tasked him with ending the legal pursuit of former service personnel, especially those who had served in the Province?
If only Mercer were now displaying in that cause the same zeal with which he leapt aboard the Woke-Left bandwagon to condemn England’s foremost philosopher of conservatism, Sir Roger Scruton, without bothering to check the veracity of the accusations against him, when Scruton was viciously traduced in a blatant partisan hatchet job by the New Statesman’s Left-wing hack George Eaton deploying deliberate misinterpretation and highly-selective quoting.
The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill’s scope becomes even more egregious given the shameful exoneration and immunities handed to former (and in some cases, perhaps, not so former) IRA paramilitary terrorists by Anthony Blair, despite the fugitive recipients of his notorious ‘letters of comfort’ being linked to some 300 killings.
Mr Hutchings is therefore in the invidious position of being dragged through the criminal courts after 46 years, in probably the last few months of his life, while his erstwhile IRA adversaries enjoy the protection of the same immunity of which he is somehow deemed unworthy. No wonder he feels aggrieved: He has more than adequate reason to do so, and we should feel similarly indignant on his behalf.
Incredibly, it gets even worse. Some MPs, Mercer not unsurprisingly to the fore, now appear to be objecting to the very principle of such a Bill at all, claiming – despite it always having been intended that immunity from prosecution should never extend to torture, murder or genocide – that the Bill will create a presumption against prosecution for lesser alleged crimes, would hinder repeat investigations, and would enable ex-soldiers to ‘escape justice’.
Britain’s soldiers, it seems, can never be hung out to dry enough to satisfy the demands of, not only the politicians who commit them to action in the first place, but even their own senior commanders and political heads for whom ‘diversity’ now ranks higher as a priority than equitable treatment or military effectiveness.
Until two decades or so ago, the Military Covenant did not figure much in the public consciousness, nor was it much discussed, despite its 400-year history. Neither enshrined in law, nor conferring contractual obligations, nor even enforceable, it was nevertheless understood to be an informal but morally binding agreement on the relationship between the State and those who voluntarily sign up to put their lives on the line to defend their country and its people.
Visible change commenced under Cameron when his coalition government, rowing back on his previous commitment to enshrine the Covenant in law, proposed merely to publish an annual statement of how it was honouring the Covenant, or rather – as is so often the case in such public relations-driven exercises in self-congratulation – ostentatiously pretending to honour it while starting to chip away at its unstated commitments.
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill was being debated in the House of Commons this week. Rather than searching for weasel-word sophistry to justify hanging ex-soldiers like Mr Hutchings out to dry, it is high time the political class reverted to honouring the Covenant in full.
One hundred and thirty years have now passed since Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in which it appears; but apparently, very little has changed that would either undermine or in any way invalidate the message contained in its couplet: ‘It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, and “Kick ’im out, the brute!” / But it’s “Saviour of ’is country” when the guns begin to shoot.’
Honour the Military Covenant, you Fake ‘Conservatives’, or forever hang your heads in shame. And, as a proud military parent, never again would I waste my precious vote on you.