Bloody Sunday decision an affront to rule of law

BLOODY Sunday victims’ families say a decision not to prosecute 15 former British soldiers for perjury is an “affront to the rule of law”.

The Public Prosecution Service yesterday confirmed that the extroops and one alleged former Official IRA member will not be charged. It said there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Thirteen people were killed when paratroopers opened fire on a crowd taking part in a civil rights march in Derry on January 30 1972. A 14th victim, John Johnston, died later as a result of his injuries.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, headed by judge Lord Saville, was announced by the then British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 and in 2010 found that there was no justification for shooting any of those killed or wounded.

Following the inquiry, the PSNI submitted an investigation file to the PPS in relation to murder and attempted murder allegations.

One ex-serviceman, known as Soldier F, is facing prosecution for two murders and five attempted murders on Bloody Sunday.

The PPS previously said it would consider whether the test for prosecution was met in respect of allegations that those reported had given false evidence to the inquiry. It has now determined that the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction of any suspect considered.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael (17) was shot dead, reacted on behalf of the victims’ families.

He said: “We consider that today’s ruling by the PPS is an affront to the rule of law and a continuation of the injustice that was perpetrated on Bloody Sunday.”

Kate Nash, whose brother William (19) was killed and whose father Alex was wounded, said the British government had protected the soldiers for 52 years and she did not believe that would change.

Ciarán Shiels of Madden and Finucane, a solicitor for the majority of the families, said his clients were disappointed. He expressed surprise that no evidence given by former Parachute Regiment officers to Saville was referred to the PPS.

“The families made serious and detailed allegations in relation to [General Sir] Mike Jackson’s conduct on Bloody Sunday. He had personally interviewed those who admitted firing live rounds in the ear of his APC before the Paras had even departed the Bogside and was recalled to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry to explain his omissions in his evidence,” Mr Shiels said.

Addressing the British government’s Legacy Act, which allows for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences, Mr Shiels said that it was “regrettable” that the PPS decision was released less that two weeks before the “effective enactment date of the morally bankrupt legacy legislation” which, he said, was designed to ensure former British soldiers were not brought before the courts.

Mr Shiels said the legal team will consider a judicial review. He said the Legacy Act deadline puts pressure on any legal action.

PPS senior public prosecutor John O’Neill said: “All decisions on whether or not to prosecute are taken by independently and impartially applying the test for prosecution.

“The standard of proof needed for a criminal prosecution is high. For a conviction, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt, through available and admissible evidence, the commission of a criminal offence by the suspect.

“After careful consideration, it has been concluded that the available evidence in this case is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction of any suspect for offences in relation to the giving of false evidence.

“The decision making involved the consideration of a vast amount of material. Consideration of the allegations of false evidence presented particularly complex evidential and legal issues, all of which were thoroughly analysed by the prosecution team.”

The PPS said three particular issues arose:

• While the Bloody Sunday Inquiry may have rejected the evidence of some individuals, the PPS said it did not always express those findings in terms amounting to a criminal standard of proof.

• The PPS concluded that accounts given by soldiers in 1972, rejected by the inquiry, would not be admissible in criminal proceedings today.

The full evidence upon which the inquiry based its findings is not available to prosecutors.

Mr O’Neill said: “I wish to make clear that these decisions not to prosecute in no way undermine the findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that those killed or injured were not posing a threat to any of the soldiers.

“We acknowledge that these prosecutorial decisions will be disappointing to the victims and families involved and that this may be another difficult day for them.

“We have written to them to explain in detail the reasons for the decisions.

“We would like to provide assurance that these decisions were taken impartially, independently and only after the most thorough and careful consideration of all available evidence and the relevant legal issues.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “This is the latest in a long line of decisions which have delayed and denied justice to the Bloody Sunday families.

“Lord Saville’s remarks could not have been clearer: many soldiers who gave evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry ‘knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing’.

“The mental, legal and linguistic contortions that have been gone through to protect these soldiers over the last 50 years really beggars belief and stands in stark contrast with the way families have been treated.

“I know this is another difficult moment for these families but the people of Derry and people all across the world know the truth about what happened here that day.

“The campaign for justice is not over, not by a long stretch, and we’ll continue to stand with the families for as long as it takes.”

Sinn Féin MLA Pádraig Delargy said the decision was “deeply disappointing” for the families. “I have no doubt they will remain steadfast and resolute in whatever steps they take next,” he said.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the announcement was not a surprise. He said the passing of time made and the lack of new evidence made the decision obvious.

Truth matters to survivors’ families

THE truth about Bloody Sunday has always mattered to the families of the dead and wounded and to the people of Derry.

On the evening of the shootings, the British government issued its version of events – significantly, through the British embassy in the US. That placed on record a version of the killings that was completely and deliberately untrue.

Official minutes show that on the evening of Monday January 31 1972, then-prime minister Edward Heath reminded Lord Chief Justice Widgery that “’we are in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war”.

In other words, he told him to make sure the Widgery Tribunal did not condemn the Parachute Regiment. Widgery duly obliged.

In their testimonies to Widgery, the soldiers testified that they responded to attacks from the IRA by shooting at identifiable armed targets. That version remained the official account for 38 years until June 2010 when it was completely overthrown by Lord Saville.

In their campaign for a new inquiry, the families uncovered evidence of paratroopers’ statements to their own commanders and the Military Police in 1972 being changed to reflect favourably on the killers.

The soldiers’ evidence and the Widgery conclusions ensured that Bloody Sunday, for some, remains an open sore.

Lord Saville concluded that the soldiers involved had knowingly given false evidence. In any other legal arena, the fact that a law lord and two retired senior judges accused witnesses of lying under oath would be enough to place them before the courts. However, 14 years later, a decision was taken not to force the 15 surviving former soldiers and an alleged former Official IRA man to answer Lord Saville’s allegation.

With just two weeks before Britain’s Legacy Act deadline for legal actions, the Bloody Sunday families have little time to challenge the PPS decision.

It is understandable, therefore, that they believe that once again the men who murdered their fathers, sons, brothers are getting off scotfree.

The haunting injustices of Bloody Sunday still linger

FOR more than half a century, the families of the 13 innocents who were killed in Derry by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday have endured endless challenges, obstacles and disappointments.

Now another has been added to the litany. The Public Prosecution Service said yesterday that it won’t prosecute 16 people for perjury in relation to allegations that they gave false evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. They include 15 former soldiers and one former alleged member of the Official IRA.

It’s another desperate blow to the families who have persevered for so long to honour the names of their loved ones. John Kelly, whose brother Michael was just 17 when he was shot dead on a day regarded as one of the worst episodes of the Troubles, went as far as to describe the PPS decision as “an affront to the rule of law”.

There are doubtless plausible reasons for the PPS to decide not to press ahead with a prosecution. Indeed, the PPS set out three, and accepted that its decision will be “disappointing to the victims and families involved”.

The families are considering their next step, with a judicial review of the PPS decision-making a possibility. Sadly, that may prove futile; the British government is utterly determined to stop Troubles legal cases in their tracks, and the arbitrary May 1 deadline imposed by its legacy act is now just days away.

That law was specifically designed from the outset to protect soldiers from being brought before the courts for Troubles-related offences. Along with the Brexit debacle, it carries the stench of the charlatan Boris Johnson. He told the House of Commons in July 2021 that the legislation would address what he described as “this problem” of soldiers facing “the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their seventies and eighties and later”.

Emphasising how little he understands about this place, he added that his legacy act would allow “the province of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward…”

That was just more self-serving nonsense from Johnson, as the events of just this week and last – from the latest Bloody Sunday decision and the Kingsmill inquest to the manoeuvrings around the Sean Brown case and the Francis Bradley and Fergal McCusker inquests – have vividly and painfully demonstrated.

The cruel reality is that what most of us are fortunate enough to call ‘the past’ is the today and tomorrow for far too many in our community.

Compassion, as well as the demands of truth and justice, mean we need to find a better way to reconcile the horrors of the past with the hopes of the future.

Irish News