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Veterans’ minister ordered to hand over names or face potential prison sentence

The Veterans’ Minister has been ordered to hand over names of those who told him about alleged special forces murders in Afghanistan or face a potential prison sentence.

The chairman of the Afghanistan Inquiry, Sir Charles Haddon-Cave has given Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer until April 5 to provide a witness statement containing the names.

During the minister’s evidence to the probe last month, the chairman told Mr Mercer his decision to “refuse to answer legitimate questions… at a public inquiry” were “disappointing… surprising… and completely unacceptable”.

Johnny Mercer MP
Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer will have until April 5 to provide a witness statement containing the names (James Manning/PA)

His words came after Mr Mercer repeatedly refused to hand over names of “multiple officers” who told him about allegations of murder and a cover-up during his time as a backbench MP.

Providing his reasons for not disclosing the names, he told counsel to the inquiry Oliver Glasgow KC last month: “The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals.”

The inquiry said Mr Mercer was served with a Section 21 notice on March 13, compelling him to hand over the names, which the inquiry have insisted will be “treated in confidence”.

In the order, the chairman said the consequences of failing to comply without reasonable excuse would be “a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine.”

Sir Charles also said the High Court could enforce the order through contempt of court proceedings, which “may result in imprisonment”.

The judge also said if Mr Mercer believed it was unreasonable for him to hand over the names, or if he was unable to comply with the order, he would have to make submissions in writing by April 3.

The chairman previously told the minister: “You need to decide which side you are really on, Mr Mercer.

“Is it assisting the inquiry fully… and the public interest and the national interest in getting to the truth of these allegations quickly, for everyone’s sake, or being part of what is, in effect … a wall of silence – and this wall of silence is obstructing the inquiry and access to the truth.

“And doing so because of, if I may say so, a misguided understanding of the term integrity and an inappropriate sense of loyalty.”

The inquiry will examine whether a special forces unit, known to the probe as UKSF1, had a policy of executing males of “fighting age” who posed no threat in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

Afghan families have accused UK special forces of conducting a “campaign of murder” against civilians, while senior officers and personnel at the Ministry of Defence “sought to prevent adequate investigation”.

Two Royal Military Police investigations, codenamed Operation Northmoor and Operation Cestro, are set to be scrutinised by the inquiry.

No charges were brought under Operation Northmoor – a £10 million investigation which was set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions by special forces, including those of children.

Operation Cestro saw three soldiers referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority, but none of them were prosecuted.

The inquiry continues.