Thousands of furious veterans take to Britain's streets in protest against the 'witch hunt' prosecutions of soldiers who served in the Northern Ireland Troubles
- Ex-servicemen dressed in ties and berets gathered near Horse Guards Parade
- The event is running alongside simultaneous protests in Glasgow and Belfast
- It is against the alleged 'witch-hunt' of soldiers who served during the Troubles
- Scores of soldiers are being prosecuted for crimes decades on from the conflict
Thousands of veterans took to the streets of some of the UK's major cities to protest the 'witch hunt' prosecutions of veterans who served in the Troubles.
Ex-servicemen dressed in ceremonial ties and berets from several regiments gathered in London, Belfast and Glasgow, four days after the nineteenth anniversary of the historic Good Friday agreements.
Tensions ran high on Friday morning in the Northern Irish capital, following counter-protests by hardline republicans.
British military veterans hold a rally near the Mall in London following the prosecution of ex-servicemen who fought in the Troubles
Dennis Hutchings, who is facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to a fatal shooting in 1974, addresses the crowd in London
400 Northern Ireland army veterans from Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans take to the street of Glasgow during a simultaneous protest
And the supporters of British troops were also out in force in Belfast, where Union Jacks can be seen being waved, as the crowds cheer
The demonstration was organised by British military campaign group, Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV).
The group claims a series of high-profile prosecutions and investigations into alleged abuses by British soldiers in Northern Ireland amount to an unjust 'hounding' of servicemen compared with the Government's treatment of former IRA members.
Among those who addressed the crowds adjacent to the capital's royal thoroughfare, the Mall, was former soldier Dennis Hutchings, who is facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to a fatal shooting in 1974.
JFNIV organiser Alan Barry said he was pleased with the show of support from the estimated 3,000 people attending at the London event, at Horse Guards Parade.
Mr Barry, who is a Northern Ireland veteran of the Grenadier Guards, said the group always agreed that genuine crimes should be prosecuted, but said the majority of investigations into alleged abuses were unfounded.
He said: 'No soldier ever left barracks with the intention of committing murder.
'When we left barracks, we left barracks on patrol, and if we were fired at, we fired back.'
Protesters also gathered at a simultaneous military veterans' rally at Horse Guards Parade, in London
More crowds in London, dressed smartly in suits or military uniform, holding up banners in protest of the prosecutions
Around 3,000 people took to the streets of the British capital, in addition to the other two demonstrations. Many can be seen waving flags as they march along
Protesters line up along Whitehall. JFNIV organiser Alan Barry said he was pleased with the show of support
The procession can be seen here playing the drums and playing the bagpipes as they march down Whitehall
Mr Barry said the group's 'next mission' will be to march on Stormont if the Government continued to pursue prosecutions.
After hearing from political activists and former soldiers, the gathered ranks of supporters arranged in a column and marched to the Cenotaph, where a rendition of the Last Post was played against a swell of bank holiday traffic.
Mr Hutchings said he was 'absolutely gutted' to be facing trial.
The 75-year-old, from Torpoint in Cornwall, said: 'Of course I'm feeling nervous about it because you don't know what way it's going to go.'
In Glasgow, the group of nearly 300 veterans lined up in George Square before beginning their march through the city.
Paisley Comrades Pipe Band led the procession, with some marchers holding banners reading ‘Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans.’
More protesters - these from the Ulster Defence Regiment - at the military veterans' rally at City Hall, Belfast, organised by Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans
But hardline Republicans held a counter demonstration against the military veterans' rally outside City Hall, Belfast
Dissident republican Colin Duffy (centre) with republicans during the counter demonstration. They feel the prosecutions are just, and can be seen with signs saying 'British state murderers have Irish blood on their hands'
Further signs at the counter protest can be seen with the slogans such as 'Brit paras shot my daddy'
The two opposing sides clashing in the same area in Belfast required a large police presence
Bookended by two police vans, a small group of police officers walked along with the march to help control the increasing traffic.
Good Friday shoppers on Buchanan Street and Argyle Street stopped to watch and take photos of the march.
One of those marching was Steve Simpson, ex-First Battalion Scots Guard.
He said: ‘We feel that the government has let us down. We followed what we were supposed to do and now we’re being persecuted for it. Until our voice is heard we will keep marching.’
Another ex-soldier, John Hunter of the Edinburgh Regiment, wore his medals proudly on his chest and said: ‘The witch hunt that’s going on in Norther Ireland is unacceptable. They’re dragging 68 year olds into court. They pardoned the IRA in the Easter Sunday agreement. It really is like a witch hunt.’
Coming in a full circle, the veterans marched back up Queen Street and onto George Square where they gathered to listen to speaker Kenny Corcoran.
Mr Corcoran from Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, helped organise the march and served in the Core of Royal Engineers from 1977 to 1992.
He spoke passionately to the attentive crowd and said: ‘No service person ever threw a bomb into a chip shop full of women and kids. No service person ever enticed three young men from a pub, take them down and slaughter them and left them at the side of the road for school kids to find in the morning.
‘Soldiers are not above the law by any means, but the law has thoroughly investigated these cases at the time. These surges have been brought to appease the Sinn Fein, IRA.
The demonstration was organised by British military campaign group, Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans, some of whom are seen here holding up a banner
More crowds in the streets of Glasgow protesting against the 'witch-hunt' prosecutions of former soldiers
‘Any judge who takes these cases will be under the ultimate pressure from Sinn Fein, IRA, to bring a guilty verdict against our soldiers.’
In his speech he referenced the letter given by MP John Reid to Tony Blair as part of the Good Friday agreement.
Mr Corcoran said: ‘In that letter it clearly stated that the agreement would not extend to her majesties forces. We want to know if this information was hidden from the government of the day to push the agreement through and leaving us wide open to allegations and prosecutions.
‘Be under no allusion gents, every Norther Ireland veteran is under the microscope, but like the triggers, we will not go away. We will fight this government tooth and nail, we will parade in every major town and city of Britain until the people of this island realise what effect a witch hunt like this has on us. And until the people of this island stand behind us and stop all of these prosecutions.
‘Margaret Thatcher would turn in her grave if she could see what was happening to her boys. Ladies and gents I thank you warmly for coming today and showing the government that we will not take this lying down and we certainly will not go away.’