“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”, said Nelson Mandela.
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 of the parents of the deceased have died. We are here to take their place.
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 full cost of Bloody Sunday cannot be measured just in terms of those who suffered that day but must also be measured in terms of those who suffered because of that terrible day.
We have just been informed of the series of charges:
We, the families of those murdered and wounded in Derry on Bloody Sunday, today heard the decision by the PPS to charge just one British paratrooper for his murderous actions on 30 January 1972.
This announcement is vindication of our decades-long campaign to clear the names of our loved ones and to bring those responsible for their deaths and injuries to justice.
When the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign was launched in 1992 we had three clear demands – to have the Widgery whitewash overturned and replaced by an independent inquiry; to gain a formal acknowledgement of the innocence of all our loved ones, and to prosecute those responsible.
With today’s news, we now achieve our third aim.
However, 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.
We would like to remind everyone that no prosecution, or if it comes to it, no conviction, does not mean not guilty. It does not mean that no crime was committed. It does not mean that those soldiers acted “in a dignified and appropriate way.”
It simply means that if these crimes had been investigated properly when they happened, and evidence gathered at the time, then the outcome would have been different.
We note the Saville Report’s findings on the actions of soldiers that day, that all the casualties were either “the intended targets of the soldiers or the result of shots fired indiscriminately at people”; that no soldiers “fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks”; that no soldiers fired “in a state of fear or panic” andthat soldiers opened fire “either in the belief that no-one in the areas towards which they respectively fired was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there was posing such a threat”. These are not the sort of comments levelled at innocent people.
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. There can be no statute of limitations used to deny justice, no new laws to protect state killers.
But, for us here today, it is important to point out that 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 also stand in complete solidarity with the hundreds of families who have had to endure decades without an inquest, without a criminal investigation and who have been left to struggle for their basic human right to justice. We hope our campaign continues to be an inspiration to them.
Today’s decision, although 47 years overdue, was necessary if we are to uphold the rule of law and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
However, we also say that the scope of the new police investigation was not wide enough, and we assert that the repeated failure to properly investigate the actions of those who planted nail bombs on the body of my uncle, 17-year-old Gerald Donaghey is unacceptable. The Saville Report left a stain on Gerald’s innocence that this investigation could have removed, but it did not do so. We repeat our call for this injustice to be addressed.
And while we as a group of families and individuals may have differing views on whether or not the soldiers who carried out the shootings should face jail, or how long they should spend in jail, we are all agreed that they should face the due process of the law.
And they should do so in public. The very few British soldiers that were charged during the conflict here were named, and the same should apply to those being charged now. Killers should not benefit from anonymity.
We maintain that key individuals in the army, in politics and beyond, should also be held to account for their actions on that day and afterwards. This affront must also be rectified if justice is to be truly done, and seen to be done.
If the police officer in charge on the day of the Hillsborough tragedy can face prosecution then so too can those who were in charge on Bloody Sunday. There cannot be one law for the military and political elite and one law for others.
Finally, there should be no further delay in dealing with the outstanding demand of the families of Bloody Sunday and the people of Derry. We call on all of those who will administer the next stage to move with all speed to bring this to a conclusion. We call on all involved to cooperate fully and not indulge in any more delaying tactics.
We call on the Crown Prosecution Service to complete its process and reach a decision on whether or not anyone is to be charged with perjury in relation to their evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
We call on the Attorney General to investigate recent comments about these prosecutions made by prominent politicians, including the British Minister of Defence, and decide if they too broke the law. If they have, they should be charged. They cannot attempt to interfere in a judicial process just because they don’t like it, or because their voters don’t like it.
The dead cannot cry out for justice, it is the duty of the living to do so for them. We have cried out for them for many years, and now we have succeeded for them.
Do not deny us justice any longer.