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Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK

UK Politics

No pardon for 'deserters'

Many of those shot were still in their teens

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Robbins reports
The 306 men shot for desertion during the World War One will not be given a formal legal pardon, the government has announced.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the Armed Forces Minister Dr John Reid said the evidence supporting pardons "just does not exist".

Dr Reid: there is insufficient evidence for a full pardon
But he said: "Defence Ministers will invite Parliament to abolish the death penalty for military offences in the British armed forces - in peace and in war."

The government is also considering adding the missing names to books of remembrance and war memorials throughout the country.

[ image: Reid: discipline is necessary in war]
Reid: discipline is necessary in war
Explaining the decision not to grant the men a pardon the minister said that 80 years later "we cannot distinguish between those who deliberately let down their country and their comrades in arms and those who were not guilty of desertion or cowardice".

Marina Brewis, whose uncle was shot explains her "disapointment" with the announcement
The announcement follows a year-long review into the case of the 306 men executed after refusing to fight.

Conservative defence spokesman Keith Simpson said it would have been better for the government to stick to the status quo.

"The status quo - leave history alone - is perhaps the option we should still consider."

Armed Forces minister John Reid: 'Democracy is based on the rule of law'
The announcement has disappointed campaigners calling for a full pardon.

Marina Brewis, whose uncle was shot for desertion, said she was "very, very disappointed" with the government's decision.

[ image: Missing names may be added to war memorials]
Missing names may be added to war memorials
She maintains that her uncle, who left his trench without orders, was "executed as an example, not as a coward".

In 1996 the Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay tabled an amendment to legislation giving the 306 men a pardon only to see it overturned by the then Conservative government.

[ image: Andrew Mackinlay: 'A great step forward']
Andrew Mackinlay: 'A great step forward'
Mr Mackinley, who has been campaigning for six years, says the announcement is a great step forward: "It was a very solomn occasion in the House of Commons. John reid actually used the word 'pardon', he expressed regret in a very profound way.

"There's a danger of people criticising John Reid for the failures of ministers over eighty years.

"I think he's drawn a line under a chapter - and I use that word because I don't think this issue will go away. There was a terrible wrong done and to the extent he's able I think he has tried to remedy it today."

Andrew Mackinlay: "It was a profoundly solomn statement..."
He said he understood the feelings of relatives, but felt that as much had been done legislatively as was currently possible.

"The court of British public opinion has long since pardonned these men."

Campaigners argue that the executed soldiers were no less brave than their counterparts who fought but were unable to enter into combat due to shell shock and post traumatic stress syndrome.

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24 Jul 98 | UK
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