The investigation, which was predicted in this week's Independent on Sunday, is expected to focus on two incidents during the battle for Mount Longdon in June 1982, in which members of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, are alleged to have killed Argentine prisoners of war and American mercenaries.
The Ministry of Defence has been studying the claims, published late last year in a book, Excursion to Hell, by Vincent Bramley, a former lance corporal in the battalion. The MoD, which has passed its findings to the police, said last night: 'Investigations were initially instigated by ourselves in response to L/Cpl Bramley's contention in his book that war crimes were committed by members of his unit, constituting grave and other breaches of the Geneva Convention. It would be wrong to speculate on the course of the inquiry, but the aim is to establish whether the allegations can be substantiated, given the available evidence.'
The Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday that it had asked Sir Peter Imbert, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to conduct preliminary investigations after Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, referred the matter to the CPS. The force's international and organised crime branch will conduct the inquiry.
In one incident outlined in his book, Mr Bramley quotes an eyewitness account of the alleged shooting of three American mercenaries by two fellow Paras, who took them prisoner during a firefight. One of the two, referred to as Y, told him: '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.'
According to X, the orders to shoot had come from above.
In another passage, cut from the original draft, Mr Bramley wrote about events after the battle for Mount Longdon. '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 cauldrons of emotion after the battle they decided not to take further action. Court martials were the last thing we needed.'
Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP who waged a long campaign about conduct in the Falklands war, welcomed the announcement of the inquiry. 'Some five years ago I heard from someone in 3 Para roughly what had happened, but I did not pursue the matter because it was no part of my case to denigrate the British services. However, now that it has been given prominence, sleeping dogs can be allowed to lie no longer.'
Last night, Nicholas Winterton, vice-chairman of the Falkland Islands Group, condemned moves to set up an inquiry into the alleged killings.
He said: 'I am disappointed and surprised that it has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. What happens during war and during actual fighting is always unpleasant. This is very different from the war crime trials in Nuremberg during the last world war because that related to atrocities against civilian populations.'
Mr Winterton went on to defend the actions of soldiers caught up in hand-to-hand combat with their blood up and their lives at risk. 'I must say I have been to the site of that battle and in that scenario I would always shoot first and ask questions later. If those who died were mercenaries I have even less sympathy for them because fighting is their livelihood. They only align themselves to causes for money.'Reuse content