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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Army 'wrong to readmit killers'
Wright and Fisher were both convicted of murder
Wright and Fisher were both convicted of murder
The Army was wrong to allow two soldiers convicted of murdering a Belfast teenager back into its ranks, according to a military watchdog.

The Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures, Jim McDonald, insisted the decision to let Scots Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher back in dealt a major blow to the forces' reputation.

Wright and Fisher were found guilty of killing 18-year-old Peter McBride, shot as he ran away from a military checkpoint in the New Lodge district of north Belfast in 1992.

The soldiers' claim that they opened fire because they thought Mr McBride was carrying a coffee jar bomb was rejected, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

However, after serving six years they were released and allowed to return to the Army.

When the Army are dismissing young men for smoking pot, the fact that it has failed to do anything with these two guys undermines its credibility
Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures

Mr McDonald, who has been the Independent Assessor since 1997, said in his report on Tuesday that the decision undermined the credibility of Army employment policy.

He said the pair should not have been reinstated, adding that a resolution to this sensitive issue remained necessary in the interest of justice.

"When the Army are dismissing young men for smoking pot, the fact that it has failed to do anything with these two guys undermines its credibility," said Mr McDonald.

"They should not have been reinstated."

Court of Appeal

The family of Mr McBride, a father-of-two, have fought a long campaign to have Wright and Fisher put out of the Scots Guards.

In September last year, his sister Kelly stood in the Brent East parliamentary by-election.

She said she wanted to bring the campaign to have her brother's killers thrown out of the Army right to the heart of political debate in Britain.
Peter McBride was shot in north Belfast in 1992
Peter McBride was shot in north Belfast in 1992

In June 2003, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that the soldiers should not have been allowed back but stopped short of ordering the Army to dismiss them.

In his latest annual report, Mr McDonald said the row had attracted adverse publicity across the political divide "and thus undermines the credibility of Army employment policy".

"I realise that the longer this case goes on the more difficult its resolution would appear to be, but a resolution remains necessary in the interest of justice."

The Independent Assessor said a retired high court judge could head up an outside tribunal to deal with such sensitive issues.

Peter McBride's mother Jean welcomed the report, but said previous recommendations by the assessor about her son's case had been ignored.

"This is nothing new - Mr McDonald has made these reports all along," she said.

"It just seems to be that it is falling on deaf ears."

SDLP Justice Spokesman Alban Maginness said it was "one of the most appalling cases of abuse by the British army".

"As Jim McDonald rightly points out, people are regularly put out of the Army for smoking cannabis - yet these soldiers have been allowed to stay on. One has even been promoted," he said.

"In fact, every soldier found guilty of murder has been discharged from the Army, except where their victims have been civilians in the north."

Sinn Fein north Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly called for the immediate removal of the two guardsmen.

"The British government should now order the immediate dismissal of these two convicted killers from the British army and allow the McBride family some closure on this injustice," he said.

'Formal proceedings'

Mr McDonald also criticised the Army for "unacceptable delays" in addressing public grievances.

He said complaints, such as low-flying helicopters and road-checks, rose from 534 to 551 in 2003.

The overwhelming majority of these complaints were settled informally.

However, none of the eight cases involving formal proceedings had been resolved within the four-week target, said the assessor.

"I am concerned that the military may not be giving quite the priority to replying to these complaints which such matters deserve."

This had been put down to staff changes at Army headquarters, he said.

"There's no excuse for this. Eight cases is the smallest number we have had for a long time. If there had been 108 it could have been understood."

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