Northern Ireland’s former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan has urged the Prime Minister to seek Karen Bradley’s resignation.
The Northern Ireland Secretary has said she did not intend to cause offence but fell short of apologising after claiming deaths caused by soldiers and police during the Troubles were not crimes.
Her comments were criticised by victims of the security forces and nationalist political leaders, while the Irish Government sought an explanation.
Baroness O’Loan said: “Those comments show a complete disregard for the operation of the rule of law.
“Moreover, they also demonstrate a total lack of understanding about Northern Ireland and utter contempt for those who suffered the loss of loved ones.”
Ms Bradley returned to the House of Commons to clarify to MPs that where there is evidence of wrongdoing it should always be investigated.
Baroness O’Loan was Northern Ireland’s first police ombudsman, an independent post charged with scrutinising police investigations.
Her tenure covered landmark inquiries into the police’s handling of the Omagh bombing as well as prominent cases of security force collusion with loyalists.
She chairs the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, which reviews the police’s handling of the murder of a private investigator in London.
She is also a member of the Independent Advisory Group for Operation Kenova, which is probing murders linked to a high-ranking Army mole in Northern Ireland.
She said there was a “vociferous and uninformed” campaign among elements in the UK to close down the proper and lawful investigation of the crimes of the past.
“Notwithstanding that, it is incomprehensible that anyone seized of the responsibilities given to Ms Bradley, who should be fully aware of the history of Northern Ireland, should comment in these terms.
“The remarks she made when she returned to the House of Commons did not even include an apology.
“Karen Bradley should be asked to resign as Secretary of State. If she refuses I ask you to remove her as Secretary of State.
“The people of Northern Ireland have suffered and continue to suffer terribly. If we are to build a new future we must do so upon the solid foundations of the rule of law.”
Asked on Wednesday evening if she would apologise for her comments, Ms Bradley told the Press Association: “Coming back to the House of Commons and correcting the record is the biggest statement I can make in terms of the inadvertent comments that I made during oral questions.
“I was absolutely determined to be clear to everybody that what I had said needed correcting and to do so on the floor of the House of Commons is the biggest statement I can make.”
She said she did not intend to cause “any offence or upset to anybody”, adding: “I am determined that we will find a way to deal with the issue of the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland as soon as possible and in a way that is right and fair for victims and everyone.”
Pressed on whether she would say sorry, Ms Bradley, who was at a St Patrick’s Day event at the embassy of Ireland in London, said: “As I say, I never intend to cause any offence. I want to ensure that we have a system that works for everyone.”
Ms Bradley initially told MPs on Wednesday: “The fewer than 10% (of deaths) that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes.
“They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.”
She later returned to the Commons to say: “The point I was seeking to convey was that the overwhelming majority of those who served carried out their duties with courage, professionalism and integrity and within the law.
“I was not referring to any specific cases but expressing a general view.
“Of course, where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it should always be investigated – whoever is responsible.
“These are of course matters for the police and prosecuting authorities, who are independent of Government.”