TWO old men went to court this month, both accused of murder.

Josef S, aged 100, was charged with being an accessory to and facilitator of more than 3,000 deaths at the Nazi concentration camp where he was a 21-year-old guard.

Denis Hutchings, 80, died of Covid complications and kidney failure during his trial for the alleged murder of a Northern Irish man with learning difficulties who was killed by a bullet to his back as he ran away.

Both cases caused huge controversy. According to ethical taste, either there should be no statute of limitation for murders or it is pointless to pursue alleged perpetrators into ripe old age.

Josef could only be prosecuted when the law changed to allow the arrest of people working at these death camps rather than those whom they could prove actually participated in mass murder.

The families of the victims in the Sachsenhausen camp are adamant that anyone who failed to stop the attempted genocide is as guilty as those who turned on the gas, or starved the inmates.

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Yet I wonder. Many philosophers would argue that forgiveness is what liberates victims rather than perpetrators. And we will never know how British two-year-olds would react had a Nazi regime come to power here or conquered the UK. I don’t believe the Germans were uniquely evil, nor do I suppose our own history regarding wars and torture is unblemished.

Then again, I didn’t lose my entire family to a malign regime.

In truth, I don’t know enough about the circumstances surrounding the death of John Pat Cunningham to gauge the strength of the case against Hutchings, although that is now academic.

The similarity lies only in the age of the defendant and the determination that even veteran ex soldiers must be accountable for their actions. The army, unsurprisingly, argues that the pursuit of old soldiers should stop. Those who died at the hands of the British army do not.

So many innocent people died in that Province from all manner of sectarian outrages that it’s difficult to draw a firm line under their suffering.

For me, the jury is still out on these conundrums. It’s possible to understand both sides of the arguments without being able to draw a firm conclusion.

Yet instinctively I recoil from the sight of very old people in the dock in respect of very old crimes.