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A Break for Breaker Morant

published  First Published: 19/10/2009
Article written by: Nigel Brookson
Supporters are seeking a posthumous pardon for Breaker Morant and two other soldiers controversially court martialled during the Boer War more than 100 years ago.
 
Lieutenants Harry Harbord "Breaker" Morant, Peter Handcock and George Ramsdale Witton were convicted of murdering Boer prisoners in 1902.
 
Morant and Handcock were executed for war crimes in Pretoria, South Africa, despite a plea for court mercy. Witton was sentenced to life in prison, and was released two years later.
 
But a petition based on an examination of the case by Navy Commander James Unkles, a Victorian lawyer with 30 years experience in military matters, has found the convictions were unsafe and unjust.
 
This material will be reviewed by the federal Standing Committee on Petitions on Monday, before going to the House of Representatives.
 
Convictions 'unsafe, unjust'
 
Commander Unkles believes the men were executed for political, rather than legal, reasons. And he said there were at least 10 legal grounds to have the case reopened.
 
"After doing my own investigations of the evidence, the circumstances that led to the court martial and the trials, I'm convinced that Morant, Handcock and Witton did not receive justice by the standards of British law of their day," Commander Unkles said.
 
"I have no doubt if this case is reviewed by the appropriate authorities the convictions would be set aside and they would be pardoned," he said.
 
The petition has been supported by Nick Bleszynski, author of the best-selling book Shoot Straight You Bastards!
 
Bleszynski alleges Morant and Handcock were "scapegoats" for the murderous policies in place in what had degenerated into a brutal guerrilla war.
 
Soldiers 'used as scapegoats'
 
"The issue is not whether Morant and Handcock shot Boer prisoners, which they admitted to, but whether they were properly represented and military law properly and evenly applied," he said.
 
"James and I are agreed that a double standard was applied in the case of Morant and Handcock, who were not the only allied soldiers to shoot Boer prisoners.
 
"This resulted in a terrible wrong that Australia could and should have put right decades ago."
 
Some suggest Morant and Handcock were executed to ease European concerns after they were earlier acquitted of killing a German missionary.
 
The petition also calls for a representation to be made to the Queen.
 
The review could take up to a year to resolve.
 
 

 

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