Report from the High Court today where Madden & Finucane represent the family of Peggy Deery.
The family of the only woman to be shot on Bloody Sunday are to be awarded nearly £270,000 in damages, the High Court has ruled.
A judge held that the estate of Peggy Deery should receive the payout for the injuries sustained in Derry in January 1972 and subsequent years of mental distress.
Mr Justice McAlinden described the behaviour of the British soldiers who wounded and verbally abused the widowed mother-of-fourteen as “imbued with a degree of malevolence and flagrancy which was truly exceptional”.
Aged 38 at the time, Mrs Deery was shot in the leg during events in the city that became known as Bloody Sunday. She died 16 years later of a heart attack.
Thirteen other unarmed people were killed when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on a civil rights march. Another of those wounded on the day died later.
In 2010, the Saville Inquiry into the shootings established the innocence of all of the victims.
Those findings led to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister at the time, issuing a public apology for the soldiers’ actions.
He described the killings as “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
Relatives of Mrs Deery sued the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the injuries they claim contributed to her death in 1988.
With liability accepted, the case centred on a dispute over the appropriate level of damages.
Counsel for the family argued that the paratrooper who shot her probably knew she posed no threat.
She was carried into a house on Chamberlain Street to be treated by members of the Knights of Malta.
The court heard soldiers then entered the property and allegedly directed foul language at the widow, stating that she “deserved it” and declaring: “Let the ***** bleed to death.”
Mrs Deery, who lost her husband to cancer months before Bloody Sunday, had been raising 14 children aged between eight months and 16-years old.
She spent four months in hospital, developed a chronic kidney disease and was effectively housebound for the rest of her life, Mr Justice McAlinden was told.
Her oldest children had to assume responsibility for her care and the rest of the family.
One daughter, Helen Deery, told the court how they carried out cooking and cleaning duties in a house with no central heating or washing machine.
“We had to do everything,” she said.
With no help allegedly provided by social services, on one occasion the family was actually fined for non-attendance at school.
It was contended that the renal complications and chronic kidney disease suffered by Mrs Deery contributed to her eventual death.
A barrister representing the MoD argued that her heart problems were probably due to a heavy smoking habit of 40 cigarettes a day.
In his judgment Mr Justice McAlinden stressed Mrs Deery was a woman of good character who attended the civil rights march in support of a society based on fairness and equality.
“Any claim that she was anything other than an innocent demonstrator was a fabrication constructed and perpetuated by the perpetrator or perpetrators of a wrong in an attempt to avoid personal or collective responsibility for any wrongdoing,” he said.
But having died long before the Saville Inquiry was set up, “the cloud of imputed culpability would, at least to some extent, have cast an intermittent shadow over her”.
Awarding £250,000 to Mrs Deery’s estate, the judge added a further £17,028 in special damages for the cost of care provided to her.
He said: “This will take into account the mental distress which she undoubtedly suffered by reason of the approach adopted by the defendant to those killed and injured during Bloody Sunday in the period between the end of January 1972 and the date of the deceased’s death in January 1988.”
Discussions on an extra sum to cover other care issues are set to continue.
Outside court a solicitor for the family hailed the judgment as a vindication of Mrs Deery’s innocence.
Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said: “The soldier who shot Peggy Deery fired from a distance of 50 to 60 yards, knowing, by her dress, that he was shooting from a high velocity rifle at a woman who presented no threat to anyone.
“He inflicted horrific, life-changing physical and psychological injuries on her, causing her premature death.
“His gratuitous violence, in respect of which he has so far escaped criminal proceedings, also had profound implications for Peggy’s children.”