Relatives of a Bloody Sunday victim who carried the stigma of being wrongly regarded as a gunman for the rest of his life are to receive £130,000 in damages, a High Court judge ruled today.
Patsy O’Donnell was shot and wounded by British soldiers who then allegedly subjected him to sectarian abuse and inflicted further baton injuries during events in Derry on January 30, 1972.
The father of six, who died in 2006, claimed he was called a “Fenian b******” and threatened with having another bullet put in him.
Awarding the payout in his family’s case against the Ministry of Defence, Mr Justice McAlinden described the actions taken against Mr O’Donnell by the paratroopers as “outrageous.”
He said: “This man lived under a stigma, with a feeling of being blamed for what had happened to him on Bloody Sunday.”
Thirteen unarmed people were killed and several others wounded when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on a civil rights march in the city.
In 2010 the Saville Inquiry into the shootings established the innocence of all of the victims.
It 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”. With liability accepted in lawsuits taken by those bereaved or injured, proceedings centred on the level of compensation.
Mr O’Donnell, then aged 40, was shot in the shoulder as he tried to take cover from the gunfire at Glenfada Park North.
The court heard he was then arrested with other civilians and made to stand against a wall while a paratrooper pulled his head back and declared: “You are a Fenian b****** and I hate Fenian b******s.”
That soldier allegedly threatened: “You have a bullet in you and when we get you down to the barracks you’ll have another one in you. You mark my words.”
He was then said to have informed his colleagues: “Chaps, there will be blood flowing tonight.”
Although released at that stage, Mr O’Donnell was later dragged out of a taxi depot on William Street and struck him on the head with a baton – inflicting lacerations that required up to eight stitches.
In subsequent years he established and worked in his own roofing business until retirement in 2004.
In a statement to the Saville Inquiry before he died at the age of 74, Mr O’Donnell expressed bitterness over what happened to him, and that some may have wrongly classed him as a gunman.
Counsel for his family, Karen Quinlivan KC, said he carried a sense of grievance over Bloody Sunday as a life-long burden without experiencing the vindication of the tribunal’s findings.
The total damages awarded covers claims for aggravated damages, false imprisonment, assault and battery.
Mr Justice McAlinden stated: “This was outrageous conduct. A man was shot, he was obviously wounded and he was made to adopt a search position in front of the press.
“He then was dragged out of a taxi office and struck.”
Outside court, the family’s solicitor said Mr O’Donnell carried psychological scars with him for many years.
Fearghal Shiels, of Madden & Finucane, added: “Regrettably Patsy went to his death in 2006 without his total innocence being declared.
“The findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry restored his impeccable reputation and today’s judgment is a further vindication of Patsy and his family”.