Victims campaign group, Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW), has said the Government’s legacy proposals ‘are a betrayal to victims and former police and military veterans.’

The Secretary of State outlined the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation in the autumn that will protect retired officers and veterans from prosecutions before 1998 and extend the same protection to republican and loyalist terrorists.

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “The Government’s position on legacy is a sorry mess and an affront to men and women who wore a uniform to counter gangs of terrorist murderers.

“The proposals deny innocent victims justice by exonerating the gunman and bomber. Ministers are saying there is equivalence between soldiers, police officers and terrorists and that is disgraceful.

“To equate officers and military veterans – agents of the State – in the same bracket as those who were hell-bent on murdering them makes a laughing-stock out of our system of justice.

“What ever happened to following the evidence to bring closure for victims? There’s no denying there is a chronic shortage of evidence, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story. In some cases, after many years of stalemate, information or evidence emerges that advances a case and brings it closer to prosecution in a Court of law.

“What the Government wishes to do is draw a line in the sand, to say any outstanding cases against either the military, police or terrorists that pre-date 1998 will not merit investigation or prosecution.

“This is a denial of justice, a betrayal of victims and former police officers and military veterans who suffered appalling losses as they worked courageously to protect the community from anarchy.

“The Government, in its haste to close a chapter, has got it all wrong by proposing to reward terrorists who did nothing but visit mayhem and carnage on innocent people.

“We will now mount a campaign to halt what amounts to a sell-out. We intend galvanising political support to make Ministers think again about these foolhardy and rash proposals.”