Irish News - 23 February 2024

SDLP leader and six others will not face prosecution over ‘unnotified procession’ last year to Bloody Sunday court hearing

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has criticised as “disgraceful” a complaint that prompted a police probe into a courthouse walk by families of Bloody Sunday victims.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said Mr Eastwood and six others will not face prosecution for taking part in the “unnotified procession” last August.

Mr Eastwood walked with some relatives to Bishop Street Courthouse in Derry for a hearing relating to the prosecution of a former paratrooper, Soldier F.

A complaint was lodged by loyalist activist Jamie Bryson who said any breach of the law around parades should be equally enforced by police no matter which side of the community it came from.

A lawyer said the entire process had added more hurt to families who have endured decades of pain.

A complaint on behalf of the families and wounded will now be made to the Police Ombudsman.

Yesterday, the PPS said decisions were taken not to prosecute all seven people on public interest grounds.

Factors listed in the decision included that the procession involved a relatively small amount of people and was short in duration; it was peaceful and caused no public disorder or deployment of police; that no harm or damage occurred; and there was minimal disruption to traffic and the public.

Welcoming the decision, Mr Eastwood said: “The people of Derry have been standing with the Bloody Sunday families for over 50 years and nothing will ever change that.

“The PPS decision is the right one. Families who walked to court together and were joined by their representatives should not have been put through this ordeal on top of 50 years of injustice. I am glad that common sense has at last prevailed.

“This entire process has added more hurt to families who have endured decades of pain.”

Writing on social media, he added: “The complaint was disgraceful. The process has been appalling.”

Ciarán Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors represents Mr Eastwood and the majority of the Bloody Sunday families.

Mr Shiels criticised the PSNI’s handling of the case and said he planned to immediately lodge a detailed complaint on behalf of the families and wounded to the Police Ombudsman.

Mr Bryson said he found the decision “extraordinary”.

“A number of people in unionist and loyalist communities and loyal orders have been prosecuted for unnotified public processions over many years,” he told the BBC.

“It is the first time that I can recall such a public interest test with that criteria being applied.”

The PSNI said: “In line with our statutory obligations police conducted an investigation and submitted a file to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration.

“We acknowledge their decision, and have nothing further to add at this time.”