A former British soldier is to be prosecuted over the Bloody Sunday shootings nearly 50 years on, it was announced today.
The man, named only as ‘Soldier F’, faces two murder charges and four attempted murder charges over events in Londonderry in 1972.
Sixteen other former members of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment will not face charges due to insufficient evidence, prosecutors in Northern Ireland said.
The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Stephen Herron, announced this morning: ‘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.’
The case is highly controversial, with outcry over the prospect of military veterans being prosecuted so long after the event for their actions while serving their country in
Many also point out the contrast with 200 IRA fugitives, thought to be behind a series of terror attacks, who were sent so-called ‘comfort letters’, assuring them they were no longer being hunted by the police during the peace process in the late 1990s.
At the same time as the soldier’s prosecution was announced this morning, authorities revealed that two alleged Official IRA members would also face no criminal action.
Linda Nash, whose youngest brother William Nash died on Bloody Sunday, hugs campaigner Eamonn McCann after it was announced that a British soldier will be prosecuted over the shootings
Families of those killed in the Bloody Sunday violence marched through Londonderry today. It was announced today that a former British soldier will be prosecuted over shootings
Families of those who died on Bloody Sunday march this morning through the Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Relatives of those killed were today joined by supporters close to the scene of the shootings in Londonderry’s Bogside estate, ahead of a march through the city.
Around 35 supporters from campaign group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans also gathered, with a banner reading: ‘Our veterans fought for you, our veterans died for you, now it’s your chance to fight for us.’
The case comes after years of arguing over one of the darkest days of the Troubles.
Unionists and military veterans insist it is betrayal of those who served and fought in Northern Ireland to now put the soldiers on trial.
The soldiers involved claimed they retaliated after coming under gunfire and former Army chiefs fear servicemen may not follow orders in future if they fear they could face prosecution at a later date.
Relatives of those killed insist they are seeking to challenge false claims that their loved ones had been armed.
Ahead of today’s decision, the officer who was in charge of British troops on the day hit out at the possibility that his men will be dragged into court nearly 50 years on.
Lt-Col Derek Wilford, the commander on the day, said yesterday that he and his men feel ‘betrayed’ and that he is ‘very angry’ at their treatment by authorities.
The now-86-year-old told
‘That is why now I have no sympathy with the other side. My sympathy lies with my soldiers, who day after day were obliged to go out into the wilderness of hostility.’
He said he accepted that what happened was bad and he is sorry for what took place, but does not regret what his soldiers did.
A photo from January 30 1972 shows demonstrators facing off with British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday
British troops search civilians on the day of the Bloody Sunday massacre, January 30, 1972
Police began the criminal probe in the wake of the 12-year, £200million inquiry led by Lord Saville, which concluded in 2010. Pictured: Tear gas explosions at the demonstrations on Bloody Sunday
Pictured: The aftermath of the incident. Eighteen former paratroopers were under investigation, but one died last year
British troops had been sent into the Bogside nationalist housing estate to deal with riots which followed a march, held in defiance of a ban on public processions.
As well as the 13 who died, a total of 15 others were shot and injured. One of the injured died months later from an inoperable tumour and some consider him the 14th fatality.
In 2010, an inquiry by Lord Saville found that those killed were innocent and posed no threat. The soldiers claimed they fired in retaliation after coming under attack from IRA gunmen.
Anger at ‘comfort letters’ given to IRA terrorists while British soldier faces court
The anger of Army veterans over the investigation has been increased by the ‘comfort letters’ given to IRA terror suspects.
The effective amnesty for the fugitives was granted in a secret deal between Tony Blair’s Labour government and Sinn Fein around the time of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
They assured 187 Republican terror suspects they were no longer being hunted by the police.
IRA terror suspect John Downey was sent an immunity letter causing his trial for for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing to collapse
At least 95 recipients were linked to almost 300 murders.
The letters – sent to the so-called ‘on the runs’ after pressure from Sinn Fein – only came to light during the trial of John Downey, the man accused of the Hyde Park bombing in 1982.
The trial collapsed in February last year when it emerged the 63-year-old had been told he would not face prosecution for the blast that killed four soldiers and seven horses in London.
Other IRA fugitives likely to have been sent letters reassuring them they would not be prosecuted include Pól Brennan and Terrence Kirby, two of the ‘H-Block four’ who escaped from the notorious Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in 1983.
One former soldier who was under investigation previously said: ‘We were made to give evidence to the Saville inquiry. We weren’t hiding from anyone. But we were told statements given to the inquiry couldn’t be used in prosecutions.
‘The next thing we know, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) are saying they are deciding on prosecutions.
‘At the time of the inquiry, families were saying they were not interested in prison sentences for soldiers. Now they are saying they want life sentences.’
Lord Saville, who chaired the investigation into the incident, yesterday insisted its sole purpose was to find out what went on.
Lord Saville told the BBC yesterday: ‘I didn’t know what was likely to happen. We hoped the inquiry would help the situation in Ireland and I think and hope it did to a degree.
‘The question as to whether it draws a line under events or whether there should be prosecutions is not one for me, it’s one for politicians and prosecuting authorities.
‘If people want more and feel that justice can only be served by prosecutions against those that they believe to be responsible, then that is a matter again on which I can’t really comment.’
Evidence given to the Bloody Sunday inquiry is not admissible in any potential criminal prosecutions under terms agreed when it was launched in 1998.
But soldiers say there would have been no prospect of prosecutions without it.
An investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) followed the £195 million inquiry and files on 18 soldiers were submitted to prosecutors in 2016 and 2017 for consideration. One former soldier has since died.
Four other soldiers included in the Saville Report died before police had completed their investigation.
A decision is also due to be taken today by the PPS as to whether to charge two Official IRA suspects present on the day.
Papers before prosecutors included 668 witness statements and numerous photos, video and audio evidence.
The mural depicting those who lost their lives on Bloody Sunday in Rossville Street
A 1998 photograph of Lord Saville of Newdigate chairing the Bloody Sunday inquiry
A timeline of Bloody Sunday and the Troubles
August 1969 – British Government first send troops into Northern Ireland to restore order after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.
30 January 1972 – On ‘Bloody Sunday’ 13 civilians are shot dead by the British Army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.
March 1972 – The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by London.
1970s – The IRA begin its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain.
British troops in Northern Ireland during the Troubles which began in the late 1960s and lasted until 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
April 1981 – Bobby Sands, a republicans on hunger strike in the Maze prison, is elected to Parliament. He dies a month later.
October 1984 – An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party conference.
Early 1990s – Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communications was so secret most ministers did not know about it.
April 1998 – Tony Blair helps to broker the Good Friday Agreement, which is hailed as the end of the Troubles. It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as its first minister.
Norman Tebbit, a Conservative cabinet minister at the time, is carried from the wreckage of Brighton’s Grand Hotel following the IRA bomb in 1984
2000s – With some exceptions the peace process holds and republican and loyalist paramilitaries decommission their weapons
2010 – The Saville Report exonerates the civilians who were killed on Bloody Sunday leading to a formal apology from then Prime Minister David Cameron to the families.
2019 – Prosecutors announce whether to brig charges against the 17 surviving Paras who fired shots that day.
Who were the victims of the Bloody Sunday shootings?
Patrick Doherty, 31. The married father-of-six was shot from behind as he attempted to crawl to safety from the forecourt of Rossville Flats.
Gerald Donaghey, 17. The IRA youth member was shot in the abdomen while running between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park. While Lord Saville said it was probable that he was in possession of nail bombs when he was shot, he stressed that he was not preparing to throw a nail bomb at the time and was shot ‘while trying to escape from the soldiers’.
John ‘Jackie’ Duddy, 17. The first to be killed on Bloody Sunday, he was running away when he was shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville Flats.
Hugh Gilmour, 17. The talented footballer and ardent Liverpool fan was hit with a single shot as he ran away from the rubble barricade in Rossville Street.
Michael Kelly, 17. The trainee sewing machine mechanic was shot once in the abdomen close to the rubble barricade in Rossville Street by a soldier crouched some 80 yards away at Kells Walk.
(Top row, left to right) Patrick Doherty, Bernard McGuigan, John ‘Jackie’ Duddy and Gerald Donaghey. (Bottom row, left to right) Gerard McKinney, Jim Wray, William McKinney and John Young
Michael McDaid, 20. The barman died instantly after being shot in the face at the barricade in Rossville Street.
Kevin McElhinney, 17. The grocery store worker was shot from behind as he crawled towards Rossville Flats.
Bernard ‘Barney’ McGuigan, 41. The father-of-six was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty, waving a white handkerchief in his hand, when he was shot in the head with a single round. He died instantly.
Gerard McKinney, 35. The father-of-eight was running close behind Gerald Donaghey in Abbey Park when the bullet that killed both of them hit him first.
William ‘Willie’ McKinney (not related to Gerard), 27. The keen amateur film-maker recorded scenes from the march with his hand-held cinecamera before the shooting started. The camera was found in his jacket pocket as he lay dying after being shot in the back in Glenfada Park.
William Nash, 19. The dockworker was struck by a single bullet to the chest close to the rubble barricade in Rossville Street.
James Wray, 22. Engaged to be married, the civil rights activist was shot twice in the back in Glenfada Park.
John Young, 17. The menswear shop clerk was killed instantly with a single shot to the head at the rubble barricade.
(Top row, left to right:) Michael Kelly, Michael McDaid, Hugh Gilmore. (Bottom row, left to right) Kevin McElhinney, William Nash and (bottom right) John Johnston, who some consider a victim of the shooting but whose death was put down to a brain tumour
John Johnston, 59, was shot twice by soldiers positioned inside a derelict building in William Street. He died four months later in hospital, but while many consider him the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday, his death was formally attributed to an inoperable brain tumour.