One soldier to face trial over Bloody Sunday
Only one former British paratrooper is to be charged in connection with the killings of civil rights demonstrators on Bloody Sunday, prompting dismay and calls for accountability from families who lost loved ones 47 years ago.
Prosecutors announced the decision yesterday after relatives of the 13 people who died on one of the darkest days of the Troubles in January 1972 marched together through the Derry streets where the victims fell.
After examining evidence in 19 cases, the director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Stephen Herron, said: “It has been concluded that there is sufficient available evidence to prosecute one former soldier, Soldier F, for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney, and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
In respect of the other 18 suspects, including 16 former soldiers and two alleged Official IRA members, it has been concluded that the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Details of the charges were revealed to the families at a hotel, before a formal announcement by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Derry’s Guildhall. The families said they were “devastated” and that the decision was a denial of justice.
The former serviceman will only be identified by the letter used in the 12-year Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday. The inquiry found the killings were unjustified, none of the dead were carrying a gun, no warnings were given, no soldiers were under threat and the troops were the first to open fire. The image of a priest waving a blood-stained handkerchief as he tried to help a victim to safety on 30 January 1972 was broadcast around the world.
As well as the 13 who died on the day, 15 others were shot. One died months later from an inoperable tumour; many consider him the 14th fatality.
The PPS said prosecutors would now consider charges against others in relation to allegations of perjury.
Herron added: “I am mindful that it has been a long road for the families to reach this point and today will be another extremely difficult day for them. There has been a level of expectation around the prosecution decisions in the light of the findings of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
“However, much of the material which was available for consideration by the inquiry is not admissible in criminal proceedings due to strict rules of evidence that apply. We recognise the deep disappointment felt by many of those we met with today. As prosecutors, we are required to be wholly objective in our approach.”
A PPS statement said: “In some cases the only evidence of what individual soldiers did was contained within their own accounts [to the inquiry], which are inadmissible against them.”
Soldier F is to be prosecuted for two murders and four attempted murders. The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the government would pay for his defence: “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today’s decision. This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support.
“The Ministry of Defence is working across government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated. And the government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution.”
A statement on behalf of all of the families was read out in the Guildhall by four people affected.
John Kelly, whose brother died, said: “There’s a terrible disappointment at the outcome … We have travelled a long journey since our brothers were brutally slaughtered on our streets … The full cost of Bloody Sunday cannot be measured just in those who died that day.” The shootings deepened the conflict, he said.
Alana Burke, who was injured on Bloody Sunday, said the three aims of the relatives’ campaign had been to overturn the “whitewash” of the initial inquiry led by Lord Widgery, have the victims’ innocence recognised and pursue prosecutions of soldiers responsible for the killings.
Michael McKinney, who lost a brother, continued: “If these crimes had been investigated properly and evidence gathered then the outcome today would have been different … There can be no statute of limitations used to deny justice, no new laws to protect state killers.”
Geraldine Doherty, whose uncle died, said: “Today’s decision is 47 years overdue … Killers should not be given anonymity.” She called for those in charge of the army operation to also face prosecution, saying: “If the senior officer in charge of the police operation at Hillsborough [can face charges] then so too can those who were in charge on Bloody Sunday. There can’t be one law for the military and political elite and another law for the others.”
Ciaran Shields, a solicitor with the Belfast law firm Madden and Finucane, which represents most of the families, said civil cases against the government securing compensation for most of the relatives had already succeeded. The last ones are expected to be agreed by this summer. “When Soldier F ultimately faces charges [in court] we would expect that his anonymity is struck off,” Shields added.
The law firm will now examine the PPS’s statement and seek a review of its decisions. “If those challenges don’t find favour we will then challenge the decisions in the high court in Belfast,” Shields said. No British soldier convicted of murder in connection with the Troubles had ever served more than three years in prison, he added.
But Alan Barry, of the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group, said that the decision to prosecute Soldier F was “one soldier too many”. “It’s very one-sided,” he said. “No soldier should be charged. It happened 47 years ago, a line in the sand needs to be drawn and people need to move on.”
For the families of Bloody Sunday’s victims, who have campaigned for justice for decades, the announcement that only one Parachute Regiment soldier would be prosecuted represented an anticlimax.
Expectations that at least four former soldiers would face charges had been widespread. Relatives had marched together to Derry’s Guildhall, bearing photographs of their loved ones – civil rights demonstrators who were shot dead on 30 January 1972.
A banner bearing the words “Towards Justice” was shared as they processed through the streets where 47 years ago soldiers opened fire. Along the way, they halted to sing the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome.
Shortly before 10am, they all filed into the City hotel, overlooking the river Foyle, where the Public Prosecution Service briefed the families about its decision.
“People were totally devastated,” said John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead. “But at least six families have something to look forward to.”
Soldier F has been charged with two murders and four attempted murders.
Having heard the news they walked across to the Guildhall. Their joint statement reflected contradictory emotions. It declared: “Justice for one family is justice for all of us. We stand in full solidarity with those of us whose loved-one’s death or injury has not been included in the announcement of prosecutions.
“We have also faced the disappointing news that in some cases there will not be prosecutions, and we are mindful of those families who received that news today.”
The statement added: “Bloody Sunday was not just a wanton act carried out by a trained army against defenceless civil rights activists. It also created a deep legacy of hurt and injustice and deepened and prolonged a bloody conflict unimaginable even in those dark winter days of 1972.
“The passage of time has made charges difficult in this case, and in other cases. But the passage of time should not be used as a form of blanket immunity to block proper investigations. Everyone deserves justice, including those whose loved ones were murdered by the British state.”
The families dealt with the disappointment with dignity. At the end of the news conference, there was a minute’s silence at the Guildhall in memory of the dead, followed by a round of applause.
Afterwards Jean Hegarty, whose younger brother Kevin McElhinney was killed, said she was disappointed there had not been more charges but was not surprised. “There were a few families who were really upset,” she said. “It depended on expectation levels. It was very mixed emotions.
“If there’s a trial of Soldier F, I will go along – even if it’s in London. Maybe it will be a jury trial? We have came a long way but we are still a divided community. It would be nigh on impossible to get a jury that everyone here considered fair. If it’s held in England, I don’t think it would be fair.”
Julieann Campbell, whose uncle Jackie Duddy was killed in 1972, agreed. “People feel a bit gutted, a bit underwhelmed,” she explained. “But the fact that six families came out with good news, that’s a success.”
Others at the nearby Museum of Free Derry stressed the importance of finally resolving the bitter events.
“Without Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy army shootings of 1971 [in which 11 civilians died],” said one man, “the war would not have gone on for 40 years.”
▲ Families march through Derry before being told only one ex-paratrooper would face charges over their relatives’ deaths
▼ John Kelly, whose brother was killed, comforts Alana Burke, who was injured, after the announcement
▼ Bishop Edward Daly, waving a bloodied handkerchief, clears a path for dying teenager Jackie Duddy
▲ A British soldier apprehends a protester during Bloody Sunday when 13 men were shot dead in Derry
▲ Families of Bloody Sunday victims gather at Guildhall in Derry following the PPS decision to prosecute a single Parachute Regiment soldier