It will be a scandal if any Bloody Sunday veteran faces charges, says STEPHEN POLLARD

There are many causes of this crisis.

But here's a thought.

If the message sent by the Government to existing and former service personnel is that, decades later, you will be prosecuted because it wants to make a political point, why would anyone sign up?

According to seemingly well-sourced leaks, on March 14, four Army veterans will be charged over the deaths of protesters on "Bloody Sunday" in Londonderry on January 30, 1972, when 14 people died and 13 were injured.

The inquiry set up in 1998 by then prime minister Tony Blair under Lord Saville into Bloody Sunday took 12 years and cost £200million.

When it finally reported in 2010 it concluded the paratroopers "lost control".

It said none of those who they shot were "posing any threat of causing death or serious injury".

The police have since investigated 18 paratroopers from Support Company, 1 Para (although one is now dead).

It seems four of the paratroopers will be charged with offences including murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and perjury over their evidence to the Saville Inquiry.

The fact that Bloody Sunday was 47 years ago is, of itself, no reason not to prosecute.

And Lord Saville's inquiry was so detailed it would be foolish to contradict its findings of fact.

But there is a far bigger picture that needs to be considered.

As Lord Dannatt, the ex-Chief of the General Staff, has said: "The Saville inquiry concluded quite rightly the events of January 1972 were a black stain on the British Army and people did what they should not have, which led David Cameron to apologise in the House of Commons. That apology was accepted and welcomed in the Bogside and as far as most people were concerned that drew a line under the matter."

Those final four words are key.

Because in any case there is a fundamental question which all prosecutors must ask, which is if it is in the public interest to go ahead with a prosecution.

In these cases the answer to that is so clearly, so overwhelmingly, so demonstrably "no" that, should a prosecution go ahead, it will be a national scandal that should bring our entire criminal justice system into question.

It is appalling that junior soldiers are being hung out to dry over their split-second decisionmaking.

They are being used as scapegoats to avoid further questions about the wider decision making by their commanders and politicians, who are now dead, which led to the confrontation between the Army and protesters in Londonderry.

The soldiers had next to no training in crowd control.

Some of those on duty were deployed into Northern Ireland less than 48 hours earlier.

But these prosecutions will not be driven by justice or the public interest, but by pure political cynicism.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, members of terrorist organisations on both sides, Loyalist and Republican, were released from prison.

Former IRA members now walk the streets.

Martin McGuinness, a former leader of the IRA, became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Some IRA members were given letters guaranteeing them immunity from any future prosecutions, and other outstanding investigations into terrorist outrages were dropped.

Almost everyone agrees that, appalling as these terrorist crimes were, Northern Ireland has overwhelmingly benefited from the Good Friday Agreement.

But there is a fundamental imbalance because none of this wiping the slate clean applies to the British armed forces, which is why Bloody Sunday remains so useful a political tool for the Republicans.

While former terrorists, who are responsible for the planned, cold-blooded murder of thousands, are told that their crimes are to be forgotten about, British paratroopers whose role was to protect civilians from terrorism are still hounded and still liable to prosecution for one single moment in which they made the wrong decision.

This imbalance is key, because Sinn Féin and the Republicans exploit it relentlessly, keeping up the political pressure for action.

The more the historical narrative is shaped in their favour, the better for them as a new generation forgets their allies' atrocities and thinks of them as freedom fighters against a murderous British state.

If the four veterans are indeed charged, it will not be about justice. It will be a grotesque warping of the concept of justice.

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