THE MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, Johnny Mercer, is facing calls to explain a tweet he sent following the conviction in Belfast of former British soldier David Holden for manslaughter. On 25 November Holden was convicted of shooting in the back an unarmed man, Aidan McAnespie, in 1988.
Shortly after the verdict, Mr Mercer posted on his Twitter account, @JohnnyMerserUK: “I acknowledge the result of the trial of David Holden in Belfast today. I remain committed to our manifesto promises made in 2019. David is being supported in all respects by MOD colleagues at this time.”
The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist network, insisted that the Ministry of Defence must explain if and how they are “supporting” Holden “in all respects”, as Mercer says.
Mercer has long argued that veterans are being unfairly prosecuted, but the PPU says the reality is that British armed forces personnel and veterans are almost never convicted of war-related crimes.
Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union, said: “This is shocking. A minister has responded to a manslaughter conviction by declaring that his colleagues are ‘supporting’ the killer. Mercer offered not a word of sympathy for the victim’s family. How are Mercer and the MoD ‘supporting’ Holden? On what legal basis are they doing so? The questions must be answered.
“In reality, armed forces personnel and veterans are almost never convicted of war-related crimes, and when they are it is the privates or NCOs and never the senior officers. But Mercer has spent years promoting the myth that there is a ‘witch hunt’ against British veterans. It seems that in Mercer’s eyes, the army can do no wrong.
“Despite his talk of supporting veterans, Mercer has voted for austerity policies that have led to cuts to mental health services and the welfare state, on which veterans should be able to rely. He has shown no support for the rights of armed forces personnel to leave their jobs, to register a conscientious objection or to join trades unions. Mercer seems less concerned about the needs of veterans than about his enthusiasm for promoting the image of the armed forces and pro-war policies.”
The PPU said that the painful process of peacebuilding in Northern Ireland will not be helped by sweeping everything under the carpet and holding nobody accountable. During the Troubles, the PPU worked with peace campaigners in Northern Ireland who spoke out against violence by armed groups on all sides.
When Mercer resigned as Minister for Veterans in 2021, he said that he and Boris Johnson had promised veterans who had been prosecuted that their trials would not go ahead. The PPU pointed out that this implied government interference in a judicial process.
* Read more on the conviction of David Holden here.
* Read more on the reported promise to prevent trials going ahead here.
* Source: Peace Pledge Union