A former soldier facing trial over a fatal shooting in Northern Ireland almost 50 years ago said the British authorities would prefer he die of Covid-19 before the case reaches court.
The trial of Dennis Hutchings, 79, a great grandfather, is due to begin in a judge-only court in Belfast on February 1 amid growing concern that hundreds of veterans of the Troubles remain under criminal investigation over 230 separate incidents.
Two other soldiers - known only as A and C - are due to go on trial three weeks earlier on January 11 accused of the murder of Joe McCann, a commander in the Official IRA.
Veterans have complained they are being discriminated against because a Government bill, currently passing through parliament, offers protection to soldiers accused of historic crimes - but only if the conflict took place overseas.
Northern Ireland is not covered by the Bill. Mr Hutchings, who has vowed to go to court to prove his innocence, is seriously ill and requires kidney dialysis twice a week at his local hospital in Cornwall.
Mr Hutchings said: “The British authorities would love me to catch Covid and die. “It would solve the problem if Covid got me. The Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office would be really happy if I snuffed it.
"It would save them a lot of embarrassment and criticism.”
Veterans are dismayed that Northern Ireland troops have been excluded from the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.
Mr Hutchings said: “It doesn’t make any sense that we are discriminated against. They can give legal protection for troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but not for us.
"Yet there were more service personnel killed in Northern Ireland than in Iraq and Afghanistan put together.”
Official reports suggest 763 servicemen and women died as a result of terrorist acts in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2007 while 405 service personnel were killed in Afghanistan and 179 in Iraq.
Mr Hutchings has accused the Northern Ireland Office of blocking any agreement that would prevent troops from being prosecuted if offences are historic and been subject to a previous inquiry.
Authorities are reviewing all deaths during the Troubles involving the British military or else terrorist groups on both sides.
But the reality is, according to critics of the review of cases, that documentation that can aid inquiries often dating back 40 to 50 years is only available from the British military.
“The only ones they can investigate are the service ones because they are the only ones with records. It’s a political sham. That is exactly what it is.”