Veterans' minister faces jail after refusing to name sources who told him about SAS Afghan 'war crimes'

26 March 2024, 16:38 | Updated: 26 March 2024, 16:45

Johnny Mercer
Johnny Mercer. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Veterans' minister Johnny Mercer is facing jail if he does not hand over names of those who told him about alleged special forces murders in Afghanistan.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Chairman of the Afghanistan Inquiry Sir Charles Haddon-Cave said Mr Mercer has until April 5 to provide a witness statement containing the names.

It comes after he gave evidence last month but refused "to answer legitimate questions".

Mr Mercer repeatedly said he would not hand over the names of "multiple officers" who told him about allegations of murder and a cover-up during his time as a backbencher.

He told counsel to the inquiry Oliver Glasgow KC: "The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals."

Sir Charles said it was "disappointing... surprising... and completely unacceptable".

Read more: Julian Assange wins temporary reprieve in fight to stave off extradition to USA

Read more: Moment Israeli brothers who are heroes of Nova massacre are detained for hours at Manchester Airport

The inquiry said Mr Mercer was served with a Section 21 notice on March 13, requiring him to hand over the names to be "treated in confidence".

The order says that the consequences of failing to comply without reasonable excuse would be "a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine".

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

The chairman previously told Mr Mercer: "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."

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave. Picture: Alamy

Downing Street refused to directly comment on Mr Mercer's refusal to hand over the names.

When asked whether individuals should comply with judge-led inquiries, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Of course, but I'm not going to get into the specifics of this case or this inquiry."

He said it "wouldn't be right" to "comment on an ongoing formal inquiry or provide a commentary on evidence or testimonies".

The official refused to say whether Mr Mercer should face a fine.

The inquiry is looking at whether a special forces unit, known 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.

The inquiry continues.