Ten years after the Falklands war, the MoD has confirmed that it is studying claims that prisoners were shot by British servicemen during the campaign. At least one incident is alleged to have taken place during the battle for Mount Longdon waged by the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.
The ministry is considering the scope and form of any inquiry after consulting the Government's law officers. The office of the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, is understood to have concluded that an official inquiry is inevitable if there is a prima facie case that the allegations can be substantiated.
Any move to investigate such incidents is certain to anger many politicians, not to mention officers and soldiers who took part in the Falklands campaign.
The MoD has declined to disclose details of the incidents that are under consideration. Allegations of atrocities on both sides have been common currency in Army circles since the war ended, and the MoD has been privately aware of them. However, Whitehall sources maintain that the present examination arises solely from allegations made public for the first time in a book published last year by an NCO who served with 3 Para. The sources do not rule out the possibility of prosecutions.
The book, Excursion to Hell, by former Lance Corporal Vincent Bramley, alludes to two incidents in which prisoners were shot. In one case, in which he quotes an eyewitness account by another soldier, the victims were allegedly three American mercenaries.
He describes how two other Paras, whom we shall refer to as X and Y, took three prisoners during a firefight. Y later told Mr Bramley what happened: '(An NCO) came . . . up to us. We explained the situation. He looked at the prisoners. One spoke perfect English, with an American accent. We were really surprised . . . . We questioned them for some minutes. All spoke perfect English, praising our soldiering. The (NCO) fucked off and came back after ten minutes or so. He took X aside, while I guarded the prisoners. X came back to me and said 'Get them over this ridge quickly'. We pushed them the 15 metres, out of view, then suddenly X let rip, shooting them all dead. I helped make sure they were completely dead.' Mr Bramley writes that X told him the orders to shoot the prisoners had come from above, because they were suspected to be American mercenaries - a fact that could have embarrassed President Reagan's staunchly pro-British line during the war.
Excisions were made from the book's original draft. The following passage concerns the killing of Argentine prisoners after the battle for Mount Longdon, with material which was included in a draft of the book - but excluded from the final published version - placed in italics. The italicised section was published by Today newspaper before the book came out.
'Suddenly we heard screaming, a high-pitched 'Mama, mama]' A dull shot was heard and we saw an Argentinian fall over the cliff.
A group of our guys had assembled some Argie prisoners on a cliff above where we had dug a body pit for their dead. Now, with the battle over, they were shooting prisoners and toppling them down to be buried. It was an outrage and senior officers stepped in immediately before the executions could get out of hand. But in the cauldron of emotions after the battle they decided not to take further action. Court martials were the last thing we needed.
'There was more screaming and (an officer) jumped up and saw the next soldier die with a bullet in the head. A couple of guys ran towards the area. Below the cliff line a party of our lads were burying the 'battle-dead' Argies who had been centralized for this purpose.'
The descriptions of the two incidents are little more than brief asides in a book which graphically evokes the courage of ordinary British soldiers in the battle. Mr Bramley makes it clear in the book he has never doubted that the war was fully justified.
The British Army still regards the Mount Longdon battle as a classic example of the horror of combat and the fog of war. Three Para soldiers were severely disorientated by enemy artillery fire. 'Like zombies,' according to one witness. Troops were aware before the battle that members of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, had been shot while moving forward to accept the surrender of Argentine troops at Goose Green.
The MoD said last night: 'There are serious allegations and we are deciding how to respond to them.'
Among internationally agreed conventions dealing with the treatment of prisoners of war is the 1907 Hague convention which says they 'must be humanely treated, protected from violence, not subjected to reprisals'.Reuse content