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Decision not to prosecute 15 former soldiers over Bloody Sunday upheld

Written by on 29 September 2020

The decision not to prosecute 15 former soldiers in connection over the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry has been upheld, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has announced.

Thirteen people were killed and 15 others injured on 30 January 1972 when troops of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment fired on demonstrators during a civil rights march in Derry.

One veteran – identified only as “Soldier F” – was charged last year with murder and attempted murder and is awaiting trial.

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Soldier F is being prosecuted over the alleged murders of James Wray (L) and William McKinney

Northern Ireland‘s Public Prosecution Service said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction for 16 other former servicemen.

And in an announcement today, officials said a review found the “test for prosecution is not met on evidential grounds”.

Lawyers representing the families of those killed in the massacre said they found the decision “deeply disappointing” and that they may challenge it in the High Court.

It was also revealed that while Soldier F was among those subject to the review, the existing prosecution against him would continue.

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The review was undertaken by PPS Senior Assistant Director Marianne O’Kane, who had not previously been involved in the cases.

She said: “In March 2019, the PPS engaged extensively with the families of those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday to explain the reasons why the original decision-maker concluded that the available evidence did not meet the test for prosecution for all but one suspect reported.

“Given the importance of these decisions to all affected by them and the extensive public interest in the events of Bloody Sunday, the deep disappointment felt by many families at that time was wholly understandable.

Bloody Sunday
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Sinn Fein has criticised the decision

“This was despite assurances received from the PPS that its decision-making had been conducted in an independent, fair and impartial manner.

“It was therefore also understandable that a number of the bereaved families and injured victims subsequently exercised their right to request a review of decisions relating to 15 of those suspects originally reported.”

She explained that the reviews process began in November 2019, after receipt of all legal submissions, and involved applying the test for prosecution afresh to all available evidence submitted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from 2016 to 2017.

Ms O’Kane said: “I have concluded that the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction of any of the 15 soldiers who were the subjects of the reviews.

“Accordingly, the decisions not to prosecute these 15 individuals all stand.

“I know that today’s outcome will cause further upset to those who have pursued a long and determined journey for justice over almost five decades.

“I can only offer reassurance to all of the families and victims of Bloody Sunday, and the wider community, that my decisions were conducted wholly independently and impartially, and in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors.

“Finally, it is important to note that while Soldier F is among the 15 individuals to which these new decisions relate, the prosecution that commenced against him in 2019, which relates to two charges of murder and five charges of attempted murder, continues.”

Families of those who died march through the Bogside estate in Londonderry
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The families of those who died have staged a series of marches demanding those responsible for the massacre are punished

Soldier F is being prosecuted over the alleged murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

It is understood that reviews were conducted into the alleged conduct of 15 of 18 former soldiers originally reported to PPS.

One died in December 2018 before a decision was taken over his alleged involvement.

While reviews of the decisions not to charge two others were initially requested, those requests were later withdrawn and the reviews were halted.

Ciaran Shiels, a solicitor from the firm representing the majority of the victims, said the decision to request a review had followed “painstaking analysis” that led them to conclude the initial decision-making was “flawed and unlawful”.

“Today’s decision by the PPS to uphold its original decision and to bring no further prosecutions is deeply disappointing for the families and wounded who are left with the firm conclusion that members of the Parachute Regiment have effectively gotten away with mass murder.

“They are left with no alternative now but to consider challenging these decisions in the High Court by way of judicial review proceedings.”

Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson expressed disappointment at the decision and paid tribute to the families of those killed in the massacre for their “strength and determination”.

“This is another deeply disappointing day for the Bloody Sunday families,” she said.

“We share that disappointment given the well documented actions of the British army on Bloody Sunday.

“Bloody Sunday was a massacre of the innocents and this was acknowledged by the British Prime Minister David Cameron when he said it was unjustified and unjustifiable.”