Bloody Sunday: decision to prosecute soldier reopens old wounds

Cheryl Sanders
March 14, 2019

Families hold photographs of the victims of Bloody Sunday and march through the Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, Thursday March 14, 2019.

The families had gathered in the city's Bogside at around 9am this morning before marching to the Guildhall to hear the decision, while singing the Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome".

But the results of the inquiry that concluded in 2010 could not be used in any prosecution, and Thursday's charges resulted from a separate police investigation into the incident.

Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Stephen Herron said he was conscious relatives faced an "extremely hard day", but "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", he said.

"We recognize the deep disappointment felt by many of those we met with today", he said.

Supporters of the paratroopers say they were acting under extremely confused and stressful conditions, and it is unfair to pursue them so long after the event when many suspected Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombers and gunmen have been told they will no longer face arrest under the 1998 peace accords. Relatives were visibly upset following the announcement of the decision.

"Their victory is our victory", he said.

He said: "We have walked a long journey since our fathers and brothers were brutally slaughtered on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday, over that passage of time all the parents of the deceased have died".

However, the government has proposed legislation to widen the programme to offences taking place from 1968, meaning any Bloody Sunday prosecutions would be eligible.

A public inquiry found that British troops fired first and had given misleading accounts of what happened.

A public inquiry conducted by a senior judge shortly after the deaths was branded a whitewash by victims' families and a campaign was launched for a new public inquiry.

In 2010, then British prime minister David Cameron issued a formal state apology for the killings, calling them "unjustified and unjustifiable".

Prosecutors said much of the material considered by the Saville inquiry wasn't admissible in criminal proceedings "due to strict rules of evidence".

An investigation by the PSNI followed the £195 million inquiry and files on 18 soldiers were submitted to prosecutors in 2016 and 2017 for consideration. Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also faced prosecution in the United Kingdom years after the alleged events.

Gavin Williamson confirmed the Ministry of Defence would support "soldier F" and pay the legal costs.

The British government said it would provide full legal support to the soldier who will face prosecution.

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