Bloody Sunday: Decision underlines extent of unresolved ‘legacy’ of Troubles

‘If they’d told the truth 50 years ago, none of us would have been here,’ says relative

Kay Duddy was 25 when her brother Jackie was killed, the first of 14 victims of Bloody Sunday. At the age of 75, she is still campaigning, standing in solidarity with the other relatives and their solicitors as they gave a press conference outside a Derry hotel.

"We shouldn't have to be here," said her niece Julieann Campbell. "If they'd told the truth 50 years ago, none of us would have been here."

On Friday, the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) informed them that it was to discontinue the prosecution of Soldier F – the former member of the British military charged with two counts of murder and five of attempted murder on Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

Prosecutors also said they would not continue with proceedings against Soldier B for the murder of Daniel Hegarty and the wounding with intent of his cousin later that year.

The rationale for the reversal went all the way back to 1972 and, specifically, to the statements given by soldiers in the aftermath of both incidents.

These were made to the Royal Military Police (RMP) not the RUC, because of an agreement between the RUC and British army – which lasted until 1973 – that the police would not arrest or question soldiers who had opened fire, a practice described by Mr Justice O'Hara earlier this year as "appalling" and designed to protect soldiers.

In evidence to the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, former senior members of the RMP referred to these interviews as usually being conducted “over tea and sandwiches”; they were not carried out under caution, soldiers had no legal representation and their purpose was not to determine if there had been criminal wrongdoing, but to document what had occurred for army records.

Earlier this year, the case of two soldiers accused of the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in Belfast in 1971 collapsed after statements given to the RMP were ruled inadmissible because of the manner in which they had been obtained.

This had consequences for the cases against Soldiers F and B; given the “related evidential features in the cases”, the PPS said on Friday, there was “no longer a reasonable prospect of key evidence in proceedings” being ruled admissible at their trials.

The solicitor for the Hegarty family, Des Doherty, was palpably angry as he told the media of the PPS's decision. "You can get away with the murder of a child if you're in the British army, because the state will always protect you," he said.

Conspiracy

He did not blame prosecutors or the courts; they were “stuck with an elaborate cover-up and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice that was begun by the British army, the RUC back in 1972 when the RUC allowed the British army to do their own investigations into their own criminal conduct. [It] is quite appalling.”

This is the reality facing the Bloody Sunday families and that of Daniel Hegarty; the consequences of the failure to investigate properly at the time continue to reverberate through the decades, and have thwarted the possibility of prosecutions almost 50 years on.

Though relatives have pledged to fight on – the first stage will be to seek a judicial review of the decision – the prospect of prosecutions now surely seems a distant one, not least given the passage of time and the judicial avenues already exhausted.

For the other small number of Troubles-era cases involving soldiers, the precedent established with the McCann case and now applied to the Bloody Sunday and Hegarty prosecutions is not expected to have any direct implication, as the circumstances are different.

However, the PPS's decision has emphasised yet again the fact demonstrated so graphically in the recent Ballymurphy inquests, that the failure to investigate properly at the time continues to block bereaved families' pursuit of truth and/or justice which, in turn, underlines the extent to which the so-called "legacy" of the Troubles remains unresolved.

At a time when the UK government has reopened the legacy debate – contrary to the Stormont House Agreement which was reached in 2014 but never implemented – it will be seen as further evidence of the extent to which, as the Foyle MP and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood put it, "the British government are trying to close all of this down, because they're in dock for this". For British army veterans and their supporters, it will be regarded as proof such cases should never have been brought in the first place.

"It poisons the atmosphere even more," said Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre. "That will be the context of any negotiations now going on regarding legacy."

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

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