Thousands protest in London against prosecution of Bloody Sunday soldier

Former servicemen and supporters converge on Whitehall over ‘Soldier F’ trial

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings rides with ex-serviceman down Whitehall in protest at the prosecution of Soldier F for two killings during the Bloody Sunday massacre. Photograph: Tess De La Mare/PA Wire

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings rides with ex-serviceman down Whitehall in protest at the prosecution of Soldier F for two killings during the Bloody Sunday massacre. Photograph: Tess De La Mare/PA Wire

 

Thousands of former servicemen brought parts of central London to a standstill in protest against the prosecution of “Soldier F” for his alleged role in the Bloody Sunday massacre.

Organiser Gavin Wragg described the decision to prosecute the former soldier as “one of the crimes of the century”.

Thousands of former soldiers and their supporters, including hundreds of bikers, answered his call to converge on Whitehall to form a human chain around Westminster on Saturday.

Soldier F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the only person from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment ever to face trial over the deaths of 13 civil rights protesters and one passerby in Derry in January 1972.

He is charged with the murder of William McKinney (27) and 22-year-old James Wray, and the attempted murder of four other men – Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

He faces a final charge of “attempted murder of a person or persons unknown”.

Demonstrators gather in Parliament Square, London, as part of a protest against the prosecution of one of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Demonstrators gather in Parliament Square, London, as part of a protest against the prosecution of one of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The Saville Report, an inquiry set up by then British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 which published its findings in 2010, found Mr Wray had been shot in the back while fleeing and then shot again as he lay dying, while Mr McKinney was also shot in the back.

Soldier F learned he was to be prosecuted in March of this year and the case is in its preliminary stages in Northern Ireland.

‘Appeasement’

Speaking to the PA news agency about the prosecution, Mr Wragg said: “It’s appeasement by the British government, it’s just to appease the IRA – we’ve got a peace process with Northern Ireland and all the terrorists were pardoned, they were all set free for the horrific crimes they committed.

“Now we are suddenly prosecuting only British soldiers.

“You either have a peace agreement for all or nobody.”

Soldier F, who is now in his 70s, was not present on the march and has chosen not to get involved in the movement.

However, 78-year-old Dennis Hutchings – another former soldier facing trial for a killing during the Troubles – was present and was atop an armoured car during the march down Whitehall.

Mr Hutchings is charged in connection with the death of 27-year-old John Patrick Cunningham, who was fatally shot in the back fleeing an army patrol in Co Tyrone in 1974.

The former soldier, who served with the Life Guards, is accused of the attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm of Mr Cunningham, who suffered from learning difficulties.

Another former soldier said: “It’s not just about one individual, it’s about many individuals and about the future.

“It’s not just about Northern Ireland but any conflict we’ve been involved in and could be involved in.”

The 47-year-old, who served in the British army between 1990 and 1998, added: “Why should we, when we’re following orders, face prosecution?”

Demonstrators set up camp at Wellington Arch, London, as part of a protest for ‘Soldier F’. Photograph: Tess De La Mare/PA Wire
Demonstrators set up camp at Wellington Arch, London, as part of a protest for ‘Soldier F’. Photograph: Tess De La Mare/PA Wire

After the protest, many of those involved migrated to a makeshift camp by Wellington Arch where they were planning to spend the night.

Police in Northern Ireland are reviewing all murder cases, considering opportunities for forensic evidence and availability of witnesses when deciding which to tackle first.

Detectives have said they do not prioritise military cases, which account for about 30 per cent of the workload. At least six former military personnel have been prosecuted in recent years.

Of 26 prosecution cases brought since 2011 involving legacy issues, 21 involved republican and loyalist paramilitaries, recent research showed. – PA