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Licence to kill

A recently-declassified memo indicates that the British government gave British soldiers a ‘licence to kill’ in Northern Ireland. The memo records a meeting on 10 July 1972 between then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, the top army commander in Northern Ireland, the deputy chief constable and senior civil servants.

The 10 July meeting discussed the army’s strategy in Northern Ireland, noting that Whitelaw would announce the government’s intention to carry on the war with the IRA ‘with the utmost vigour’.

Crucially, the meeting concluded: ‘The army should not be inhibited in its campaign by the threat of court proceedings and should therefore be suitably indemnified’.

In 1972, before and after this meeting, British soldiers were responsible for shooting dead 79 people, most of them civilians. No soldiers faced court proceedings for any of these killings.