The brother of one of the victims of Bloody Sunday has accused British MP Boris Johnson of attempting to put pressure on the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland not to prosecute soldiers in relation to the 1972 killings.
The PPS will announce on March 14th whether or not it will recommend prosecutions in regard to the deaths of 13 anti-internment marchers in Derry on January 30th, 1972. A 14th died later.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the former UK foreign secretary said any charges would be followed by “a storm of utter fury from the public”, and that it was “incredible that we are on the verge of putting these old men on trial for crimes that are alleged to have been committed 47 years ago”.
“What kind of a world is it where we can put former squaddies in the dock for murder, and simultaneously tell IRA killers that they can get away with it?” he wrote. “Is that balanced? Is that fair?”
He also wrote on social media that “we mustn’t let politics trump justice in this travesty of a Bloody Sunday trial. What signal does it send out to our brave armed forces?,” asked Mr Johnson.
“I believe what they’re trying to do is put pressure on the PPS not to prosecute,” said John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday.
“It’s stomach-churning when you read this material, but at the same time it’s not unexpected.
“We expected this to happen and there’s more to come, but at the end of the day we hope that the PPS makes the right decision and does the right thing and delivers justice to the families, which they deserve.”
It follows an article in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday which claimed four former members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment expected to be charged with murder in relation to Bloody Sunday.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the PPS said it was a “wholly speculative article which is likely to cause significant and undue distress to the Bloody Sunday families”
“The PPS is currently making arrangements for the communication of its decisions to all parties on March 14th, 2019. We will not be providing any information in relation to prosecutorial matters in the intervening period.”
The 2010 Saville Report into Bloody Sunday found that none of the victims posed a threat when they were shot. The then British prime minister, David Cameron, apologised, describing their deaths as “unjustified and unjustifiable.”
A murder investigation was launched in 2012. Prosecutors are currently considering potential charges against 17 former members of the British army’s Parachute Regiment and two former members of the Official IRA.
“There’s no sell-by date on murder,” said John Kelly, “and there’s no sell-by date on age when it comes to the perpetrators of murder.
“Every soldier who fired a shot that day should be charged with murder and attempted murder, so I will be highly disappointed if there are only four charged, but that is only speculation.
“We’re not surprised because we’re coming close to the decision day and we’ve been waiting patiently for the outcome, but what’s happening now is a campaign of sympathy.
“Because they murdered people wearing a British uniform, does that mean they’re immune from prosecution in relation to the murder of innocent people?”
“You hear from the soldiers a cry for sympathy, but what about our people, what about how they died? How many were shot in the back, how many were running away trying to get to safety, over half of them were shot in the back, some shot in the head, some crawling away on their hands and knees?
“Those politicians should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Mr Johnson’s comments have provoked an angry reaction from politicians in Northern Ireland.
The MP for Foyle, Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion, said his remarks were “disgraceful and hurtful to the relatives of those killed.
“The remarks also showed disrespect to the ongoing court case into the massacre by attempting to pre-empt the legal outcome.”
The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said “if you murder 14 unarmed civil rights marchers you should expect to be prosecuted.”