Civil servants block pardons for First World War deserters

MINISTRY of Defence officials are locked in battle with ministers over demands for pardons to be issued to more than 300 soldiers who were shot for desertion and cowardice in the First World War.

The Daily Mail newspaper reported yesterday that pro- pardon campaigners were "likely to have their hopes dashed".

But Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour MP for Thurrock who has been leading the pardon campaign, yesterday backed ministry denials that any decision had been reached by John Reid, the defence minister who has been reviewing the cases.

"I know that the minister will be meeting with lawyers and academics supporting the pardons campaign in the next few weeks," Mr Mackinlay said. "These meetings are being arranged at the request of the minister."

The Ministry of Defence said it was possible that ministers would announce their decision this summer. "But no timescale has been set," said a spokesman, who added that it was a complex matter.

Soon after last May's election, The Independent reported that the 307 British soldiers executed during the First World War for cowardice, desertion and other battlefield offences "could be pardoned by the end of the year".

It is a reflection of official tenacity and resistance that ministers have been unable to come to any conclusion since.

At every step of the way, officials have managed to come up with a stream of legal, administrative and other reasons for a rejection of the pardon campaign backed by ministers, MPs and the Royal British Legion.

Officials have argued that if a blanket pardon was given, some soldiers who were certainly guilty of cowardice would be included; and a review of First World War courts martial would open the "floodgates" to demands for more retrospective pardons - and possible claims for compensation.

The men from the ministry are trying to persuade Mr Reid that it would be more appropriate to issue a general expression of regret for the apparent injustice the men suffered - rather than the more formal process of pardon.

Mr Reid and more than one-third of the current Labour Cabinet voted for a pardon in the Commons in 1996, when the Conservative government successfully beat off a legislative amendment from Mr Mackinlay.

Last year, Mr Mackinlay tabled a Commons motion, arguing "that the vast majority of the 307 executed were as patriotic and brave as their million other compatriots who perished in the conflict".

It is argued that many of the executed soldiers - some of whom were just 19 when they were shot - were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence