Almost half a century after the event, the British Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has decided to prosecute a former British paratrooper for the murders of two people during the infamous Bloody Sunday incident in Derry, Northern Ireland.
More specifically, Soldier F – for obvious security reasons, the authorities are withholding his full name – is facing prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Michael Quinn, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
It was January 30, 1972 when paratroopers from 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, were deployed to police a civil rights march. After being provoked by some protesters, the Paras opened fire on the crowd, killing 14 civilians. In 2010, a public inquiry stated that the protesters didn’t carry any arms, nor did they make provocative actions against the troops. Following that verdict, the PPS began an investigation that has now resulted in Soldier F’s prosecution.
Alan Barry, the founder of the advocacy group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, said: “It’s one soldier too many as far as we’re concerned. It happened 47 years ago. A line in the sand needs to be drawn and people need to move on. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (the official agreement that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland), veterans are being left open to prosecution while terrorists have been cleansed of their past crimes.”
His sentiments were echoed by many in the British government. In response to the announcement, the British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today’s decision. This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support. The Ministry of Defense is working across government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated. And the government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues.”
The investigation, furthermore, decided that no members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) would be prosecuted for provocative actions that might have led to the Paras opening fire.
The development highlights the ill-thought decision of the British government at the time to send the Paras into what was essentially a riot police role. Elite units such as the Royal Marines Commandos and the Parachute Regiment are designed, trained, and equipped to be close-in with the enemy and destroy him, not to police civilians.
“Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution,” added Williamson.
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