Bloody Sunday soldier charged, announced in Derry on Thursday.
One former British soldier is to be charged over the Bloody Sunday killings, the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced in Derry on Thursday.
Soldier F is to be prosecuted for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
No other former British soldier is to face prosecution.
The PPS said that “in respect of the other 18 suspects, including 16 former soldiers and two alleged Official IRA members, it has been concluded that the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction”.
Today’s decisions relate only to allegations of criminal conduct on Bloody Sunday itself, the PPS said in its statement.
“Consideration will now be given to allegations of perjury in respect of those suspects reported by police,” added the PPS.
The DPP, Stephen Herron, said: “I wish to clearly state that where a decision has been reached not to prosecute, this is no way diminishes any finding by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that those killed or injured were not posing a threat to any of the soldiers.”
Mr Herron said the PPS recognised “the deep disappointment felt by many of those we met with today”.
“As prosecutors we are required to be wholly objective in our approach. However this does not mean that we do not have compassion for all those who are affected by our decisions,” he added.
“Our role is to independently assess the available evidence and apply the test for prosecution,” said Mr Herron, who added the PPS’s “statutory responsibility was undertaken in this case with absolute integrity and impartiality, without fear or favour”.
Mr Herron said the decision to prosecute one former soldier was taken after giving “careful consideration to all of the available evidence in these cases”.
There was surprise in Derry that just one former soldier is to be prosecuted. However, the PPS in its guidance on how it reached its decision said the burden of proof in a criminal case was a “very high one – beyond reasonable doubt”.
“A finding that something was probably, or even highly probable – and that was the language that the inquiry often used – would not be enough to sustain a conviction,” said the PPS.
The PPS pointed out Lord Saville’s inquiry was “able to receive and consider evidence, irrespective of the circumstances in which it was obtained”.
“In a criminal trial, on the other hand, there are strict rules that can lead to evidence being excluded in which case it can play no role in determining whether the test for prosecution is met,” it said.
The PPS said that after considering very carefully and with the benefit of advice from highly qualified counsel, one of its “key” conclusions was a “court would not permit the prosecution to rely upon the majority of the previous accounts provided by the soldiers as evidence against them in a criminal trial”.
The prosecution follows from Lord Saville’s 2010 report into Bloody Sunday that found the 13 people shot dead by British soldiers on January 30th, 1972, during a civil rights demonstration were innocent, that the killings were unjustified and that those killed posed no threat.
A 14th victim, John Johnston, died in June that year, and his death was attributed to injuries he sustained on the day.
Lord Saville’s findings created the possibility that 22 former British soldiers and two alleged Official IRA members could face charges over Bloody Sunday. Since then five of the former soldiers have died – leaving 17 former soldiers and two former Official IRA members facing possible charges.
The Bloody Sunday families learned of the PPS decision at a private meeting in the City Hotel shortly after 10am on Thursday. Earlier they paraded from Bloody Sunday memorial in the Bogside to the City Hotel where they learned of the PPS’s decision.
Those families unable to attend that meeting were told separately around the same time.
The Northern Ireland director of public prosecution and head of the PPS Stephen Herron told the families of his decision.
The former soldiers, mostly based in Britain, and their legal representatives were informed of the decision directly after the families were notified.
The PPS took its decision after considering an estimated 125,000 pages of material relating to Bloody Sunday.
That material included the 5,000-page report of Lord Saville’s inquiry into Bloody Sunday published in 2010.
It also included oral evidence and statements from almost 2,000 witnesses who gave evidence over the 435 days of the inquiry that, all told, amounted to more than 100,000 pages of material. It also included investigation files consisting of 668 witness statements and numerous physical exhibits such as photogaphs, videos and audio material.
Lord Widgery’s 1972 report into Bloody Sunday that said British soldiers were fired on first and that some of those killed had been armed also was part of that material. Nationalists and many others portrayed the Widgery report as a “whitewash”.
Although the PPS considered Lord Saville’s material, it was prohibited from citing any of that material as evidence. Instead it had to make its own case based on the PSNI investigation and its evaluation of the evidence.
All decisions as to prosecution were taken by the application of the “test for prosecution”. The test is based on a reasonable prospect of a conviction and a judgment that the prosecution is in the public interest. Most murder cases are judged in the public interest.
The PPS is the principal prosecuting authority for Northern Ireland. According to its stated remit “it is independent of the British government, the PSNI and all other agencies when carrying out its functions –- no-one can make the PPS prosecute a particular case, nor stop it from doing so”.
Although the early release scheme of the Belfast Agreement does not pertain to the period before 1973, Northern Secretary Karen Bradley this week indicated legislation would be introduced to retrospectively apply it from a new start date of January 1968, and that it also would relate to former members of the British security forces.