Prosecution of Soldier F over Bloody Sunday deaths halted

Ex-Parachute Regiment member was only British troop charged over events in Derry in 1972

People confront British soldiers on Wlliam Street in Derry minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 14 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Photograph: William L Rukeyser/Getty Images.

People confront British soldiers on Wlliam Street in Derry minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 14 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Photograph: William L Rukeyser/Getty Images.

 

The prosecution of the only British soldier charged with murder on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 has been halted.

The North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) told relatives of the victims on Friday that it intended to discontinue the prosecution of Soldier F for murder and attempted murder on Bloody Sunday.

Thirteen civilians died when members of the British army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment march on January 30th, 1972. A 14th person died later.

In 2019 Soldier F, who is a former member of the regiment, was charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and five counts of attempted murder in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

Speaking after a meeting with the PPS in Derry on Friday, John Kelly – whose brother Michael was among the victims – described it as a “day of devastation” for the families and said “justice has been denied to the people of Derry and to the families” but they were “never going to give up”.

“They cannot get away with this, and we’re not going to let them,” he said. “We’re not finished. We’re continuing on.”

The PPS also announced on Friday it will not commence proceedings against a former member of the British military known as Soldier B, who was due to be charged with the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in Derry in 1972 and the wounding with intent of his cousin Christopher.

In both the Soldier B and Soldier F cases the decision followed “careful consideration”, prosecutors said, of the consequences of a ruling earlier this year that led to the collapse of the trial of two former British soldiers charged with the murder of the Official IRA leader Joe McCann in Belfast in 1971.

The judge ruled that statements given by soldiers to the Royal Military Police (RMP) in 1972, which were relied upon in the McCann case, were inadmissible because of the manner in which they were obtained.

Given the “related evidential features” in the cases, the PPS said, it reviewed the available evidence against Soldier B and Soldier F and concluded there was “no longer a reasonable prospect of key evidence in proceedings against Soldier F and Soldier B being ruled admissible at their trials”.

The PPS said: “Without this evidence the Test for Prosecution was no longer considered met.”

In a statement, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Herron, said he recognised the decisions brought “further pain” to victims and bereaved families but said the PPS had a “duty to keep prosecution decisions under review and to take into account any change in circumstances as a case proceeds”.

He said the impact of the McCann ruling had been “considered extremely carefully” by his office and “led to the conclusion that a reasonable prospect of conviction no longer existed in proceedings against both Soldier B and Soldier F”.

“In these circumstances, the prosecutions cannot proceed,” he said, adding that in both cases, he “would like to emphasise that this outcome does not undermine previous findings that those killed and injured in these tragic incidents were entirely innocent”.

The prosecutors’ decision was initially announced to the media by the families and solicitors of the Hegartys and those killed on Bloody Sunday.

Ciaran Shiels, solicitor for the Bloody Sunday families, said they would seek an immediate judicial review of the PPS’s decision to discontinue the prosecution of Soldier F.

“The reasons underpinning the PPS decision relate to the admissibility of statements made to the Royal Military Police in 1972 by a number of soldiers who were witnesses to events in Glenfada Park [in Derry],”he said.

“The admissibility of RMP statements in relation to the events of Bloody Sunday is a matter already under active judicial consideration by the High Court following proceedings which we lodged last December.

“The High Court will hear detailed legal argument over five days in September. In those circumstances, the decision by the PPS to halt this prosecution is clearly premature in the absence of a High Court ruling on the issue,” he said.

Representing the Hegarty family, solicitor Des Doherty said Soldier B had never been formally arrested or questioned and the police should seek a fresh statement from him.

“Unless the PPS through their direction to police now invite Soldier B to voluntarily attend with the police to be interviewed in relation to the murder of Daniel and the attempted murder of Christopher, then Soldier B should be arrested because there is still time to cure the problem,” he said.

Foyle MP, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, said it was “totally unjust” that the families were “now in a position where their loved ones were killed by members of the British army and their prosecutions have been discontinued because of the conduct of the British army”.

It was “galling”, he said, “that these cases appear to have collapsed because the British army’s historical investigation process was so deficient that the evidence collected is considered to be inadmissible”.

The North’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein said it was a “bad day for justice”, while the UK’s former Minister for Veterans, the Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, said the cases should “never have got this far.”

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Government was aware of the PPS’s determinations and officials were keeping in contact with the families.

Their decisions, the spokesman said, “will be deeply upsetting for all the families involved who have spent so many years in pursuit of justice for their loved ones and our thoughts are with all of them today.

“While it is important that nothing is said or done that could be seen to prejudice ongoing due legal process, it is vital that the rationale for these decisions is clearly communicated.

“All victims’ families must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice in accordance with the law and regardless of the perpetrator,” the spokesman said.