Minister warned of 'serious legal consequences' by Afghan inquiry chair over refusal to name officers who told him of murder allegations

The government's veterans minister has been warned of "potentially serious legal consequences" after he refused to give names to a independent inquiry into alleged murders by UK special forces in Afghanistan.

The probe was launched in 2022 to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the British Armed Forces during deliberate detention operations in the country between 2010 and 2013.

This week, Johnny Mercer has been giving evidence to the inquiry, where he revealed "multiple officers" had told him about allegations of murder and the subsequent cover-up during his time as a backbench MP.

But the now minister would not disclose the names of those service people, telling lawyers: "The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals."

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Mr Mercer added: "The simple reality at this stage is, I'm not prepared to burn them - not when, in my judgment, you are already speaking to people who have far greater knowledge of what was going on."

The minister's position received short shrift from the chairman of the inquiry, Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, who called the move "disappointing", "surprising", and "completely unacceptable".

Speaking on Wednesday, Sir Charles told Mr Mercer "you need to decide which side you are really on", saying the minister had "a misguided understanding of the term integrity and an inappropriate sense of loyalty".

The chairman added: "The plain fact of the matter is that you have, at least for the moment, refused to answer legitimate questions by leading counsel at a public inquiry - in particular... 'what are the names of people who've spoken to you about these matters?'

"I'm bound to say, this is frankly very disappointing and surprising for someone in your position and, I'm bound to say, completely unacceptable.

"It gives rise to potentially serious legal consequences which may need to be put in train."

Sir Charles warned Mr Mercer that he had "very significant powers" under the current law that he would "prefer not to have to use", adding: "But you can be assured Mr Mercer that I will, if necessary.

"My patience is not inexhaustible because I have a public inquiry to run and pursue as quickly as possible in the public interest and the interest of all those who have had allegations made against them or who have a dark cloud sitting over them, their families and their careers."

The chairman called on the minister to "reflect" on his decision.