British soldier faces murder trial 47 years on from Bloody Sunday

The British government apologised for the shooting of unarmed marchers in Northern Ireland

Relatives and supporters of the victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings hold images of those who died as they march from the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland. AFP
Relatives and supporters of the victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings hold images of those who died as they march from the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland. AFP

A single former British soldier will stand trial for murder in connection with the killing in 1972 of 13 peaceful marchers in one of the most notorious incidents of 30 years of civil strife on the island of Ireland.

The former paratrooper — named only as Soldier F — will be charged with two murders and four counts of attempted murder 47 years on from the killings in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry that became known as Bloody Sunday.

Prosecutors found insufficient evidence to charge another 16 soldiers who were investigated for opening fire on a peaceful crowd marching in protest against British policies in Northern Ireland.

Families said they were disappointed by the decision to charge only one soldier and vowed to fight on. They also pledged to challenge the ruling that gave Soldier F anonymity.

The shootings helped to galvanise support for the Irish Republican Army, which fought a three-decade armed struggle for a united Ireland independent from Great Britain. More than 3,500 people died in what became known as The Troubles.

Soldier F was accused of the murder of amateur filmmaker William McKinney who was shot in the back after recording scenes of the march. He was also charged with murdering James Wray, 22, who was shot twice in the back, according to an inquiry report.

Some relatives — who marched through the city to a hotel where they learnt the news — were visibly upset that only one soldier was charged over the shooting. John Kelly, whose brother Michael, 17, was killed, said that many had received a “terrible disappointment” but welcomed the news for the six families.

“Their victory is our victory," he said. “We have walked a long journey since our fathers and brothers were brutally slaughtered on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday … we are here to take their place.”

Britain’s defence minister Gavin Williamson said the government will provide full legal support to the soldier who was charged.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Police launched the murder investigation after a 12-year inquiry report published in 2010 criticised soldiers and refuted claims that some of the marchers had been armed and attacked troops.

Prosecutors received the file in 2016 containing some 125,000 pages of material against 18 British army veterans who were mostly in their 60s and 70s. One of them died last year.

“I wish to clearly state that where a decision has been reached not to prosecute, that this is in no way diminishes any finding by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that those killed or injured were not posing a threat to any of the soldiers,” said the director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Stephen Herron.

Before the charges were laid, the officer in charge of the troops on the day, Lt Col Derek Wilford, 86, told The Daily Telegraph that the thought of prosecutions “makes me feel very angry”. “One loses sight of how it was,” he said.

Mark Saville, the judge who led the £200 million (Dh974 million) inquiry, concluded that some of the soldiers lost their self-control, ignored instructions and then lied about what happened to justify the shootings. Prosecutors said a later decision would be made on whether anyone should be prosecuted for lying to the Saville inquiry.

Then British prime minister David Cameron responded to the report in 2010 by apologising for the shootings, which he described as “unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

Lord Saville’s findings overturned the assertions of an original report into Bloody Sunday from 1972 that had claimed some of those shot by paratroopers were bombers and gunmen. That finding had enraged the families of the victims and acted as a powerful recruiting tool for the IRA.

A peace deal that ended the violence in Northern Ireland was not agreed to until 1998 under the government of Tony Blair.

The peace has held but tensions have been stoked amid wrangling over Brexit and the implications for Northern Ireland.

News of the charges came a week after a group calling itself the IRA claimed responsibility for a series of letter bombs sent to a university and transport hubs. Nobody was convicted over a similar campaign in 2014.

Politicians had been divided over whether soldiers should be prosecuted decades after the event.

“If it is in the public interest to suspend prosecutions and release terrorists early from prison, it cannot be in the public interest after nearly half a century to prosecute these people,” Richard Benyon, a ruling party MP and former British army officer, told The Times.

Updated: March 14, 2019 05:19 PM


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