Falklands soldiers will not be prosecuted: Widespread relief greets decision after war crimes inquiry. Will Bennett reports

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BRITISH soldiers will not be prosecuted over allegations that they executed Argentinian prisoners of war during the Falklands conflict. The decision, disclosed yesterday, was greeted with widespread relief.

Even Vincent Bramley, the Falklands veteran whose book began the controversy, and Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP who raised the issue with the Government, said they were pleased that soldiers would not face criminal charges.

The prospect of men who fought in the Falklands being charged with murder horrified politicians, the Army, and even some Argentinian witnesses. A campaign to prevent prosecutions was launched and some senior Army officers threatened to resign.

Yesterday, Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that 'the evidence is not such as to afford a realistic prospect of conviction of any person for any criminal offence'.

Her statement marked the end of the investigation, in which detectives interviewed more than 400 people and travelled to Argentina. The inquiry began after Mr Bramley, who fought with the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment in the Falklands, wrote Excursion to Hell- The Battle for Mount Longdon, published in 1991.

In his account of the battle, in which the battalion lost 23 men, he alleged that some of his comrades shot Argentinian prisoners of war. There were also claims that ears were cut off dead bodies.

Mr Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow, asked the Government what it planned to do about the allegations. There was an inconclusive inquiry by the Royal Military Police and then the matter was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The DPP asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate and detectives spent 18 months on the case, submitting their report to Mrs Mills in March. It showed that there had been a breakdown in discipline and officers believed they had enough evidence to prosecute one or two men.

Meanwhile, the argument continued between those who felt that the allegations should be investigated and those who argued either that they were untrue or that such killings can occur in the heat of battle.

There was concern that any prosecution would depend on evidence from former enemies about events which took place 12 years ago. In legal and police circles, it was always thought unlikely that prosecutions would go ahead.

Brigadier Philip Trousdell, director of Army public relations, said: 'I feel a great sense of satisfaction that they have decided that no charges need answering.'

Mr Bramley said: 'I don't think the inquiry should have taken place anyway. I am relieved it is over.' He added that the incidents he had described were the sort which occur in any war.

The Argentine War Veterans' Federation reacted angrily to the decision.

'This is simply a cover-up. Major's government is not only covering up for Britain's military, but has also dragged the British justice system into the mud,' its spokesman, Jorge Vazquez, said.