Bloody Sunday: Case against Soldier F begins in Derry
Former member of elite Parachute Regiment accused of murdering two unarmed civilians
The case of the British soldier accused of murder on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 has begun at the city’s courthouse.
Soldier F, a former member of the elite Parachute Regiment, is accused of murdering two civilians, William McKinney and Jim Wray, in the city on January 30th, 1972.
He also faces four charges of attempted murder in connection with Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell, who were injured on Bloody Sunday, as well as an additional charge of attempted murder against a person or persons unknown.
Thirteen people were killed when the regiment opened fire on anti-internment marchers in Derry’s Bogside. A fourteenth died later.
Soldier F was not in court for the brief committal hearing in the Magistrates Court in the city’s Bishop Street courthouse on Wednesday morning.
His barrister confirmed that they intend to contest the committal. Under law, Soldier F is not required to be present when a committal is contested.
The district judge, Barney McElholm, adjourned the case until December 4th to allow the defence time to “fully consider the voluminous papers in the case”. He said this would also give time for the defence to ascertain what witnesses would be required, and for the PPS to establish their availability.
“All that, I accept, will take some time,” he said, “and it is important that this is all done with a degree of fairness to all concerned in the matter.”
A committal hearing is usually a brief procedural matter to confirm that there is sufficient evidence for the case to be transferred from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court, where any trial will take place.
If that committal is contested, a full hearing - which can include the calling of witnesses - must be heard to determine if the case should proceed to the higher court.
In court on Wednesday, Mark Mulholland QC, appearing on behalf of Soldier F, applied for an adjournment due to the “complexity of the case” and said that the defence’s contention was that the committal proceedings necessitated the calling of witnesses.
He also said that several hearsay applications had been lodged by the defence, and that these had been objected to.
Mr Mulholland also requested that Soldier F’s anonymity be preserved. He said he had been referred to by the cipher “F” since 1972, and he was referred to as such in the papers, and for that reason he asked the court to grant an interim anonymity order to keep that anonymity in place.
He also asked the district judge that Soldier F’s be excused from court “until such time as the statutory questions must be asked”. This would come at the beginning of the actual committal proceedings.
The prosecution made no objection to the defence’s applications.
Judge McElholm granted the defence’s application that Soldier F’s anonymity be kept in place, and instructed that his identity should not be disclosed by any means.
He also said that on December 4th, the court would seek “as precisely as possible” to determinate the expected duration of the matter, and he said that witnesses should be agreed and availability determined by that date.
He also said that any written applications should be made in advance, and any ancillary applications made on December 4th.
These matters would be considered on that date, he said, “with a view to fixing a date for the hearing as soon as possible.”
Speaking outside the court, Ciaran Shields of Madden & Finucane solicitors, which represents the family of William McKinney and the majority of Bloody Sunday relatives, said that the hearing had been conducted “as anticipated”.
He said that while at present Soldier F retained his anonymity on an interim basis, he intended to make a submission to the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) that this be lifted so that Soldier F be prosecuted “in a transparent manner as consistent with the majority of prosecutions of soldiers in respect of the murder and attempted murder of Irish civilians here.”
Mr Shields said that the next court date, on December 4th, would be largely about “case management” and timetabling, and that he anticipated a full mixed committal would be listed, which could consist of several days of legal argument and up to three weeks of legal evidence.
Questioned by reporters as to the location of any potential trial, Mr Shields said that there had been no indication during the brief court hearing that Soldier F’s defence team attended to make an application regarding venue.
But he said he expected that any trial would ultimately take place in a diplock (judge-only) court in the Crown Court in Belfast.
He acknowledged that legal proceedings were likely to be length, but said “the families are in it for the long haul.”
Relatives of victims
Relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday, as well as some of the wounded, were in court for the hearing.
Earlier, the families gathered at the Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry’s Bogside before walking together towards the city’s courthouse. They were joined by a number of well-wishers and politicians, including the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the local MP, Elisha McCallion of Sinn Féin.
Speaking outside the court before the hearing, John McKinney, whose brother William is one of the two men the prosecution alleged was murdered by Soldier F, said that it had been an “emotional rollercoaster” for the families”.
“This is what we’ve been campaigining for all these years,” he said. “We hope this is the final chapter.”
He also said he was mindful of the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday who had been told there would be no prosecution in their cases.
“We hope in future that they will get prosecutions as well,” he said. “We will continue to campaign on behalf of the rest of the families.
“The rest of the families are in our minds as we walk into court today.”
The PPS announced in March that it would prosecute Soldier F following an investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which was launched following the publication of the Saville Report in 2010.
The public inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, found that all of those killed on Bloody Sunday were innocent victims, and that none had posed a threat when they were shot. The then British prime minister, David Cameron, apologised, and said their deaths were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
The PPS had considered charges against a total of 18 people, including 16 former soldiers and two alleged members of the Official IRA, but concluded that, with the exception of Soldier F, in all other cases “the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.”