Bloody Sunday families will not be prosecuted for walking together to court last year

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood was among those facing prosecution after complaint was made to PSNI

Members of the Bloody Sunday families will not be prosecuted for walking together to a court hearing in Derry last year.

The North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced on Thursday that such a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

The families’ solicitor, Ciarán Shiels, said it was a “victory for common sense” and this was “a matter that never should have troubled the PPS” but left the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with “extremely serious questions to answer”.

Mickey McKinney, whose brother William was among those killed on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, said the PSNI owed the Bloody Sunday families and the injured “a sincere and public apology”.


He said the PSNI “proudly claim to be ‘a victim-lead organisation’” and “senior officers in the PSNI need to ask themselves whether they have protected the rights and interests of victims in this instance”. He said they should be “ashamed and mortified at their own actions”.

In a statement issued in response, 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.”

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood, who was among those facing prosecution, said he was “glad common sense has at last prevailed”. He said “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”.

“This entire process has added more hurt to families who have endured decades of pain. The complaint was completely vexatious and those responsible should be ashamed,” he said.

Thirteen people died when members of the British army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on anti-internment marchers in Derry’s Bogside on January 30th, 1972, which became known as Bloody Sunday. A fourteenth died later.

A former member of the British army’s parachute regiment, Soldier F, is charged with the murder of Jim Wray and William McKinney as well as five attempted murders on Bloody Sunday.

Last August, relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday attended court along with supporters for a pretrial hearing.

The loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson subsequently reported them, their legal team, Mr Eastwood and Sinn Féin MLA Padraig Delargy and councillor Christopher Jackson to the PSNI for taking part in an illegal public procession, and the police launched an investigation.

On Thursday the PPS said it had decided not to prosecute all seven people reported to the police on “public interest grounds”, which included the relatively small number involved, the peaceful nature of the protest and that it had caused no public disorder, harm or damage. It said no complaint had been made by any member of the local community.

A spokeswoman for the PPS said it “was considered that the conduct of the reported individuals did amount to participation in a public procession and that their procession had not been subject to the legal notification required”.

“However, the purpose of having legislative regulation of parades and processions in Northern Ireland is to control public disorder and damage, to minimise disruption to the life of the community and to enhance community relations.

“In this particular case, it was clear that the procession investigated did not raise any of those risks and therefore the public interest would not be served by pursuing criminal proceedings.”

In social media posts in response to the decision on Thursday, Mr Bryson said “one law applies to unionists/loyalists and another to nationalists/republicans” and it raised “huge issues as to inequality under the law”.

In a subsequent statement, he said there was a “two-tier justice system” and the PPS’s decision “will have useful consequences in so far as it now provides a strong basis for unionists/loyalists to undermine parading regulation, given it now has zero moral legitimacy given its unequal application”.

Mr Shiels said he intends to lodge a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.

“Far from warning Mr Bryson to immediately desist from wasting valuable police time, the PSNI at this senior level directed this plainly spurious complaint be investigated,” he said.

“This decision was taken knowing full well that genuine victims of state violence, all of pensionable age, would endure for months (including over the Christmas period) the very real possibility of being subjected to arrest by the PSNI and subsequent prosecution by the Public Prosecution Service in the criminal courts.”

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times