Politics: MoD seeks war pardons solution

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The Independent Online
THE Ministry of Defence is preparing the ground for a fudged "pardon" for the 309 men shot for alleged desertion cowardice and other offences against military discipline in the First World War, writes Anthony Bevins.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend yesterday, John Reid, the defence minister, said he had been going through the individual case notes, assessing the legal and medical evidence in each case. But there was a difference in the quality of the evidence.

"For instance," he said, "was looking at one case where there is one page foolscap, hand-written. That is the only evidence and, quite frankly, you couldn't make a judgement on that. On others, there is a great deal of evidence. Is it fair that by historical accident, some might be reviewed with a view to pardon, but others condemned by historical accident ... or, is it better to do it generically; to take them as a group?"

Mr Reid then warned that if the 309 were taken as a group, "then there are difficult legal precedents for a pardon". A ministry spokeswoman explained last night that that meant a precedent would be set for future campaigns; that legal pardons might be demanded in spite of the evidence.

In an attempt to offer a possible solution, Mr Reid then added: "It might well be that in order to give the innocent the benefit of the doubt, it would be better as a group to give an expression of a pardon by history, rather than a legal pardon."