LONDON: Northern Ireland prosecutors have charged a former British paratrooper involved in the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry with murder and attempted murder on Thursday.
The announcement by the Public Prosecution Services (PPS) came 47 years after the incident took place on Jan. 30, 1972 when a Britain’s elite Parachute Regiment opened fire on a civil rights movement march in the Northern Irish city.
Prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against the remaining former paratroopers.
The PPS said that “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”.
Today’s decisions relate only to allegations of criminal conduct on Bloody Sunday itself, the PPS said in its statement.
“Consideration will now be given to allegations of perjury in respect of those suspects reported by police,” added the PPS.
– Families react
Families of the victims said in a press conference that they have had a “terrible disappointment” by the decision not to prosecute more soldiers.
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity,” said John Kelly whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed on the day.
“We have walked a long journey since our fathers and brothers were brutally murdered.”
“Their victory is our victory,” Kelly said on the forthcoming prosecution of soldier F — reference to the former soldier who is charged today as any of the paratroopers have not been identified publicly since 1972 — for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
Kelly highlighted there were legal means of challenging the decisions not to prosecute. “The Bloody Sunday families are not finished yet,” he said.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Ministry of Defense would support soldier F and pay the legal costs.
“We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland,” Williamson said.
He added: “The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance… 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.”
– 1972 killings
The city of Londonderry — known as Derry by its Catholic residents — was the scene of the infamous massacre when soldiers shot 27 unarmed people in a civil rights protest.
Thirteen victims died on the day and a fourteenth one later died a few months after.
The killings hastened Northern Ireland’s descent into conflict between the British government and pro-British paramilitaries on one side and Irish republicans and nationalists on the other.
Anger over Bloody Sunday went worldwide as it was recorded by TV crews and it generated a wave of new recruits for a resurgent Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The U.K. government initially claimed the soldiers were responding to gunfire from nearby buildings — a finding that was supported by an early investigation called the Widgery Report.
However, after years of pressure from the victims’ families, the 12-year Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry, later found that the victims had not posed a threat to the soldiers.
In June 2010, then Prime Minister David Cameron issued an official apology for the killings on behalf of his government, confirming that those shot dead were innocent victims.
The peace deal — dubbed the Good Friday agreement — largely saw the end of Troubles-era violence in which more than 3,500 people lost their lives. (AA)