Photograph taken during Bloody Sunday – 30th January 1972, Derry
A Bloody Sunday evidence-gathering process allegedly operated to protect and exonerate British soldiers responsible for killing civilians in Northern Ireland, the North’s High Court heard on Monday.
Lawyers for some of those shot dead in Derry in 1972 claimed the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) ignored those aims in deciding not to prosecute army veterans for murder.
Senior judges were told the PPS approach was legally and fundamentally flawed.
Thirteen people were killed when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the city. Another of those wounded died later.
Relatives of seven of the victims are now challenging decisions not to pursue criminal cases against five of the paratroopers involved.
In July, the PPS announced it was dropping charges against Soldier F for the murders of William McKinney (26) and James Wray (22) plus five counts of attempted murder.
The case against him was reviewed after the trial of two other military veterans for Troubles-era offences collapsed in Belfast earlier this year.
Based on an assessment of the admissibility of evidence from the time, it was concluded that the test for prosecution was no longer met.
The families of five other Bloody Sunday victims are also seeking to judicially review the PPS for not charging ex-paratroopers with their murders.
Those proceedings relate to the deaths of Jackie Duddy (17), Michael Kelly (17), John Young (17), Michael McDaid (20) and 41-year-old father-of-six Bernard McGuigan.
Opening proceedings on behalf of some of the bereaved relatives, Karen Quinlivan QC stressed that the legal issues also impacted on others killed on the day.
She told the court soldiers who entered the Bogside on January 30th, 1972 fired more than 100 live rounds at unarmed civil rights marchers within 10 minutes.
“Some of those civilians were shot whilst running or crawling away, some were making gestures of surrender, and some were selflessly going to the assistance of others who had been shot,” counsel said.
“All were unarmed. None were doing anything which justified the firing of live rounds.”
The barrister set out how, in the immediate aftermath, the British army labelled the deceased and wounded as gunmen and bombers.
That lie persisted for decades, the court heard, and was perpetuated by the 1972 Widgery Tribunal into the events on Bloody Sunday.
It took until 2010, when the Saville Inquiry published its report, to establish the innocence of all those who were shot.
At the time of the shootings the Royal Military Police (RMP) took statements from soldiers who opened fire, with further accounts prepared for the Widgery hearings.
The challenge centres on a dispute about whether the PPS was right to conclude the 1972 statements would be ruled inadmissible in any criminal trial.
Ms Quinlivan claimed that in all of the accounts the relevant soldiers admit to opening fire in Derry on Bloody Sunday at locations where civilians were killed or injured.
Some describe their shots striking individuals at those locations, according to the families’ case.
It was also contended that other evidence from civilians and military personnel provided a further basis for prosecuting the soldiers.
With the RMP actions described as unfair to the victims and next of kin, the challenge centred on an alleged failure by the prosecuting authorities to recognise the aim at the time.
“The applicants’ broad complaint is that the 1972 evidence-gathering process was intentionally designed and operated so as to secure the exculpation of soldiers responsible for killing civilians in Northern Ireland, rather than to secure evidence,” Ms Quinlivan submitted.
“The PPS approach is fundamentally flawed because they scrutinise the 1972 statement-taking process without any regard for the context in which that process occurred.
They fail to have regard to the fact that the process was a fundamentally flawed process, designed to protect soldiers and to ensure that soldiers responsible for civilian deaths were not subject to the rule of law.”
She added: “The PPS failure to analyse the statement-taking process through that prism means that their approach to this exercise has been fundamentally flawed from the outset as they have ignored/disregarded the relevant context.”
The case continues.