Campaigners for the family of Peter McBride claimed a victory last week after former Scots Guards officer Lt Col Tim Spicer pulled out of a speaking engagement at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Jean McBride had planned to attend the conference, in the hope of confronting Spicer over his support for Mark Wright and James Fisher, the two soldiers convicted of murdering her son Peter in Belfast in 1992. Spicer is currently chief executive of Aegis Defence Services, a private military company which holds US and UN security contracts in Iraq worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Aegis co-sponsored last week’s conference, where Spicer had been due to speak in a session on civilian/military co-operation chaired by Col Tim Collins.
Campaigners from the Article Seven – End Impunity Campaign learned that Spicer had pulled out when they handed in a letter of protest at the RUSI building in Whitehall
The decision marks the second time Spicer has abandoned an engagement targeted by human rights campaigners. In February 2004, he pulled out of a planned lecture at the School Oriental London
Pat Finucane Centre Spokesman Paul O’Connor said: "he is someone who should not be dealing with civilian/military matters whatsoever. Someone who says that to shoot a teenager in the back does not constitute murder, is not someone who should be winning US Government contracts or UN contracts."
The RUSI protest came the day after a cross-party coalition of MPs and human rights campaigners came together to call for a change in the law to prevent the British Army retaining convicted human rights abusers like Guardsmen Wright and Fisher.
Speaking at the Parliamentary Launch of the End Impunity Campaign, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: “This meeting gathers around a simple proposition: that those convicted of serious crimes, like murder, like rape, like torture, shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the British Army. This is a matter of public confidence People need to know that those who serve, supposedly in their name, will respect their laws, the law of the land that they are meant to be serving. It is a matter of public safety. The public should be protected by soldiers not petrified of them.”
The Labour MP for Blackpool North and Fleetwood Joan Humble told the meeting: “We’re all here because we want the Army to do its job properly, and sadly we get involved when things go wrong. Clearly, for a lot of soldiers, things do go right for them, but when it goes wrong it is extremely difficult to get any answers, whether you’re asking for answers as a solicitor, or as a Member of Parliament. What we want is the best armed forces in the world, and to take pride in that, because they do an excellent job in many of the situations they find themselves in.”
“It was interesting that John Reid, on the television just a week ago, pointed out the impact of the Deepcut deaths on morale. He wanted to reassure parents and young people, who he wanted to recruit into the armed forces, that things were getting better. Well, there are ways that he can do it. The first way is to look at this issue of impunity, because impunity discredits the Army. The message to many families is that, officers within the army, soldiers within the army, can get away with murder.”
The Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, Sarah Teather said: “I accept that there is not absolute impunity now and Peter McBride’s killers were after all imprisoned, but there is nevertheless an impunity that allows people such as that to return to the armed forces, or at least never in this case be really discharged.”
“It is often said that the British armed forces are among the best in the world, but I think if we’re going to support that kind of view the armed forces must be held accountable for serious crimes, and those who commit such crimes must not be allowed to continue to serve.”
The Deepcut and Beyond Families Campaign was represented by Geoff Gray, whose son died at Deepcut barracks in Surrey
and overseas, bullies are getting away with murder, and we need to change. To prevent more deaths in the future the Army needs an independent mechanism to investigate incidents. Zero tolerance is not enough. What we need is prosecutions.”
Solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who represents both Iraqi civilians and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, said there was now an opportunity to root out a ‘culture of abusive bullying.’
“We could conceivably see our armed forces brought into the Twenty-First Century, trained to observe relevant human rights standards and international human rights law, rather than being trained at the moment to deliberately flout them,” he said.
[From this week’s Irish World]