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LONDON: UK Veteran’s Minister Johnny Mercer will risk prison by not revealing the identities of whistleblowers to an inquiry investigating the killings of innocent people in Afghanistan.

The Times reported that friends of the MP had suggested he would rather be a “man of integrity” over the matter ahead of a deadline to hand the names to the inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, next week.

Mercer has already given evidence to the inquiry, which is investigating allegations of extrajudicial killings and cover-ups by UK Special Forces between 2010 and 2013.

Appearing in February, he said a Special Forces soldier told him that in 2017 he was asked to carry a weapon to plant on an unarmed civilian to make them seem like an enemy combatant. He refused to reveal the source and others out of fear for their safety, with suggestions that some may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and could be mentally vulnerable.

Haddon-Cave gave Mercer until April 5 to reveal the names, which was later extended. Failure to comply, he was warned, could result in a year-long prison term, which would cost him his job as a minister and his position as an MP. He could also face a fine.

One friend of the MP told The Times: “The inquiry doesn’t seem to realise that nothing will destroy their authority more than putting the veterans’ minister in the dock — the one man the military community trusts.

“If they do this, no one from the military community will want to co-operate with the inquiry. They seem to think Mercer will fold under the pressure and they will get their way. But he won’t. He will go down as a man of integrity and the inquiry will lose all support.”

Former Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Mercer should reveal the identities of his sources.

“I admire Johnny enormously for the way that he has done politics under his own rules with an incredible sense of mission … He is a remarkable man but on this particular point I think for him, for his family and actually for the credibility of the inquiry I think he does need to disclose these names,” Heappey said.

On Friday, the inquiry will examine the Ministry of Defence’s failure to provide evidence to it on time. It is still waiting to hear from senior officials, including former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

It has also heard allegations that Gen. Gwen Jenkins, future national security advisor and former Special Boat Service head, locked away a report into claims of extrajudicial killings instead of passing it to military police. 

Mercer also suggested during the inquiry, which began in December 2022, that the next head of the UK Army Lt. Gen. Sir Roly Walker had given “unbelievable” testimony over claims that Special Air Service personnel had killed unarmed Afghans.

An investigation by The Times, meanwhile, has suggested that former members of specialist Afghan Army units CF 333 and ATF 444 could provide crucial witness testimony to the inquiry but that their subsequent relocation from Afghanistan was overseen by MoD officials in a potential conflict of interest.

Many had their asylum claims to come to the UK rejected, a decision now under review.

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