Johnny Mercer: Ex-veterans minister could face jail for not revealing soldiers' names in Afghanistan killings probe

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer could face a prison sentence after his request to withhold the names of soldiers who told him about alleged special forces murders was rejected.

Mr Mercer, who lost his Plymouth seat last week, has repeatedly refused to hand over names of "multiple officers" who he says told him about allegations of murder and a cover-up in Afghanistan while he was a backbench MP.

He first made the claims to the inquiry in February. It was set up under the proviso it protects witnesses from prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or for repeated failure to report misconduct.

Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, chair of the Afghanistan Inquiry, ruled on Thursday that former Army officer Mr Mercer must hand over the names in the next two weeks, by 25 July.

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Quoting the British Army's values and standards, Sir Charles said: "Integrity requires moral courage to do what is right, even when it may not be popular."

The Afghanistan Inquiry was set up by the Conservative government in 2023 to investigate extrajudicial killings that allegedly took place in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013 during the war.

It is examining 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, and that senior officers and personnel at the Ministry of Defence "sought to prevent adequate investigation".

While giving evidence to the inquiry in February, Mr Mercer said: "The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity and I will be doing that with these individuals."

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He faced a previous order to hand over the names, with Sir Charles warning that failure to comply without reasonable excuse would be "a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine".

Mr Mercer then submitted an application on 3 April, arguing he was either unable to comply with the order, or it was not reasonable for him to comply with it.

He has accused the inquiry of "ignoring pretty serious evidence" in order to "fixate" on pressuring him to hand over the names.

In Thursday's ruling, Sir Charles said: "The applicant submits that he is a protector of whistleblowers.

"He chose publicly, however, to disclose that friends told him about allegations of unlawful killings by (special forces) in Afghanistan.

"He has since refused to disclose the names to assist the inquiry, even though: the Inquiry was set up for the very purpose of looking into these allegations; he says that that his friends were merely witnesses; he could pass on their names to the inquiry privately and in strict confidence; he accepts that the inquiry protects the identities of confidential contacts; and they have protection from risk of prosecution for breach of the Official Secrets Act or failure to report misconduct."

An inquiry spokeswoman said: "Mr Mercer is refusing to disclose information which may be important to a public inquiry which is seeking to establish the truth about grave allegations of multiple murders involving UK Special Forces.

"Mr Mercer accepts the inquiry has secure measures in place to protect the names and identities of his sources and that witnesses coming forward to the inquiry have protection from risk of prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or for failure to report misconduct."

Sky News has contacted Mr Mercer for a comment.