Bikers rally in London, Belfast against Bloody Sunday prosecution
Many of the protesters supporting Soldier F are armed forces veterans
A motorcyclist displays a badge on his jacket in support of Soldier F at the London rally. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of bikers have taken to the streets of London and Belfast to protest against the prosecution of a soldier implicated in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry.
Organisers claim as many as 11,000 bikers met on Park Lane in London on Friday afternoon, before riding through the city to Parliament Square and on to Trafalgar Square.
The protesters, many of whom are armed forces veterans themselves, oppose the prosecution of an unnamed soldier, known only as Soldier F.
Soldier F is to be charged with murdering two people after troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Derry in January 1972.
Some relatives of the 13 killed have campaigned for their prosecution, while others argue that Soldier F should not face trial.
The protest, which also saw around 80 bikers ride to the Stormont parliament building in Belfast, was conceived in March when Harry Wragg (56) posted a video on Facebook, calling for Soldier F not to be prosecuted.
He claimed a form of immunity was given to paramilitaries as a result of the peace process — concessions he insisted should be extended to British soldiers who served.
A number of biker groups from around the UK welcomed Mr Wragg’s suggestion of a procession of motorbikes in London to protest against Soldier F’s prosecution.
The protesters wore leather jackets with patches that showed their biker group, and many veterans bore the insignia of their former regiments.
Mr Wragg told PA: “I had a bit of a rant on Facebook saying how disgusting it was really, over Soldier F...There’s loads of banter between the RAF, the Navy, the Army and the Marines, and we’ve turned up as one. I’ve been truly moved this week.”
Alan Coates (47), who owns a motorcycle shop in Hull, joined the protest against the prosecution, which he said was “bang out of order”.
“I don’t know the guy, I don’t know his name, I’ve never served in the armed forces,” he said.
“I’ve shut my business for the day, come all the way down from Hull purely to show my support. There’s no greater thing a man can do than lay his life on the line for his country, for people he doesn’t know.
“So people who don’t know him now are down here essentially showing him that he has our support and the government are bang out of order.”
Soldier F will face charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
The ministry of defence pointed out the charges had been brought by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, which was independent of the British government.
In Northern Ireland, about 80 bikers travelled in convoy from Cultra, Co Down to the Stormont estate at lunchtime, riding up the Prince of Wales Avenue with their engines revving and horns blaring.
The organisers said the protest was directed against the British government rather than against the Bloody Sunday families.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday said those involved in the Rolling Thunder demonstrations should be ashamed of themselves.
“They can protest all they want. At the end of the day they are not going to achieve anything because Soldier F is going to be prosecuted. Due process of the law has to take place and it will take place,” said Mr Kelly. - Added reporting PA