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Explainer: Why British soldiers won't face charges over the 12 other Bloody Sunday killings

Only one soldier is being charged in relation to two killings. Here’s why more charges aren’t being brought.

Families of those who died march through the Bogside in Derry today ahead of the announcement.
Families of those who died march through the Bogside in Derry today ahead of the announcement.
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Images

 TODAY, THE PUBLIC Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland announced that one former British soldier would be charged over two murders and two attempted murders in the Bloody Sunday killings.

Soldier F – as he’s identified by the PPS – will face charges over the murders of James Wray and William McKinney in Derry on 30 January 1972.

He’ll also be charged with the attempted murder of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell. 

However, there were 12 other people who were fatally shot on Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civil rights protesters in the Bogside area.

After the lengthy second inquiry into Bloody Sunday – called the Saville Inquiry which lasted 12 years – it was found that the killings were “unjustified” and it led to an apology in the House of Commons from then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010.

The PPS said today that it had concluded the “available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction”, in respect of the 16 British soldiers.

It also provided its reasoning behind this, so here’s why prosecutors say there won’t be murder charges brought in the cases of the other civilians killed on Bloody Sunday.

shutterstock_1199105272 The Bogside area of Derry Source: Shutterstock/Edward Haylan

‘Test for prosecution’

The PPS said all its decisions were taken strictly in accordance with the ‘test for prosecution’.

This involves ascertaining whether the evidence is available, admissible in court and can be considered credible and reliable. Once this first test is met, a decision must be made on whether it is in the public interest to prosecute a case. Once the evidence meets the required test, and the public interest test is satisfied, a prosecution can proceed. 

It notes that previous inquiries – such as the Saville Inquiry which found the killings to be unjustified – are “not bound by rules designed for court cases”. 

The PPS is bound by those rules, and cannot draw on the conclusions of the Saville Inquiry for its case.

It also had to weigh the various accounts given by the soldiers who discharged their weapons that day. The PPS judged that it could not draw upon previous testimony from soldiers regarding these events, including at the Saville Inquiry.

Some will have given evidence to the Royal Military Police immediately after Bloody Sunday, statements and sworn testimony to the Widgery Inquiry in the 1970s, and statements and sworn testimony to the Saville Inquiry in the 2000s. 

Some of these earlier statements would have been made where soldiers were “provided with an assurance by senior Army officers that the statements would not be used against them in any subsequent proceedings,” the PPS noted. 

“The circumstances in which the various statements described above were made by the soldiers presented the prosecution with formidable legal difficulties in terms of relying upon them,” the PPS said. 

It was concluded that this highly significant body of evidence was not available to the prosecution for the purpose of any criminal proceedings.

The PPS also judged that in many cases, the evidence of one soldier over another was consider inadmissible.

When considering whether to prosecute, the PPS divided the events of the day into five ‘sectors’.

That morning on 30 January, Catholics planned to hold a civil rights march against the backdrop of the escalating violence in Northern Ireland, the introduction of internment, and the banning of marches by the Northern Irish Prime Minister.  

Those marching planned to travel from Bishop’s Field in the Creggan housing estate to the Guildhall in the city centre. 

Sector 1

In the first incident, shots were fired by two soldiers at a derelict building on William Street, before other soldiers had moved into the Bogside.

Two civilians – Damien Donaghy and John Johnston – were injured by gunfire. Soldiers A and B were suspected of being responsible.

sector 1

The PPS said: “After careful consideration the PPS concluded that on the available evidence there was no reasonable prospect of proving that Soldier A and Soldier B were not acting in self-defence.”

Sector 2

These events concerned what happened in the area of the car park at the front of Rossville Flats. Army vehicles moved into the Bogside, soldiers disembarked and a number of shots were fired by the soldiers. 

Jackie Duddy was shot and killed, while Margaret Deery, Michael Bridge, Michael Bradley, Patrick McDaid, Patrick Brolly and Pius McCarron suffered injuries. 

The soldiers reported to the PSNI of being involved here were Soldiers N, O, Q, R, S and V. Soldier N has recently died, so no prosecution can be brought against him.

The PPS noted that the Saville Inquiry was unable to be sure as to which soldier was responsible for the various casualties in this area.

Saville concluded that Soldier Q “probably shot Michael Bradley” and Soldier V “probably shot” Margaret Deery. But the PPS found no evidence to prove they fired their weapons. 

sector 2

In the case of Soldier R, Saville concluded he probably shot Jackie Duddy, and also may have fired the shots that injured McCarron and McDaid.

The only evidence available that Soldier R had fired their weapon was the account of another soldier. However, from this evidence the PPS said “it is far from clear whether soldier did in fact see Soldier R fire”. 

While there was some evidence to potentially prove that soldiers O and S had fired, the PPS judged it insufficient. 

“The inconsistencies between those accounts and the lack of correlation with the wider body of evidence meant that, even if they were admitted, they could not present a clear or coherent narrative capable of providing the basis for a prosecution case,” the PPS said.

Sector 3

This centres around a rubble barricade that ran across Rossville Street. Soldiers from Mortar Platoon, Anti-Tank Platoon and Composite Platoon were reported in connection with these events.

Michael Kelly, Hugh Gilmour, William Nash, Michael McDaid, John Young and Kevin McElhinney were shot and killed in this area.  Alexander Nash was also shot and injured.

After the shooting had stopped in other sectors, a number of soldiers in this area fired at a window of the Rossville Flats, though none of the bullets struck a person.

The soldiers who were reported were Soldier F, Soldier J, Soldier K, Soldier M, Soldier P, Soldier U and Soldier 039.

The Bloody Sunday (Saville) Inquiry: 

  • Was sure Soldier U shot and killed Hugh Gilmour;

  • Was sure Soldier F shot and killed Michael Kelly;

  • Was sure Soldier P shot at least one of William Nash, John Young and Michael McDaid;

  • Found Soldier J may have been responsible for one of the three above;

  • Could not eliminate the possibility that Soldier E (deceased) was responsible for shooting at least one of William Nash, John Young and Michael McDaid;

  • It was possible Soldier P or Soldier J shot and wounded Alexander Nash;

  • Was sure that either Soldier L (deceased) or Soldier M shot and killed Kevin McElhinney;

  • Found that Soldier K fired at around the same time but it was likely he did not hit Kevin McElhinney or anyone else;

  • Found that Soldier L, Soldier M and Soldier K probably fired after being given an order by Soldier 002 (deceased) and/or Soldier 039.

In the case of Soldier F, there was some evidence that might show he fired at the rubble barricade.

A forensic examination in 1972 of a bullet recovered from the body of Michael Kelly linked that bullet to a particular rifle, with the serial number A.32515. However the contemporaneous documents do not link the rifle to any particular soldier so there was no reasonable prospect of proving Soldier F discharged the shot from this rifle.

The only source of evidence that it was Soldier F who fired this weapon in the day was contained in his own inadmissible accounts.

One soldier placed Soldier F among a group of soldiers who were firing in a location that would appear to be Rossville Street but there was insufficient evidence to prove that Soldier F was one of those actually firing. This soldier also later heard Soldier F admitting to having fired on Bloody Sunday, though the admission did not detail where or when he fired.

Another soldier referred to Soldier F firing in this location but in his first statement he had stated he was unable to identify which soldiers were firing. The PPS said there were a number of “further significant reliability and credibility issues” with this witness. It concluded the available evidence did not provide a reasonable prospect of proving Soldier F fired at this location.

In respect of Soldier M, there was some evidence to be considered of his involvement in the firing that resulted in Kevin McElhinney’s death. This evidence came from other soldiers. The PPS said even if this hearsay evidence was admitted in court, it would support a defence case that Soldier M fired under the genuine but mistaken impression that he had identified a gunman. There was no reasonable prospect of disproving a self-defence case.

With Soldier 039, the PPS found the evidence was not consistent solely with an intention on his part to encourage other soldiers to fire, as opposed to ensuring they monitored a potential threat.

In the other cases, the PPS also said there was insufficient evidence that the accused soldiers fired their weapons at this location that day.

The prosecution service also made a decision on the firing at the window of the Rossville Flats. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry concluded Soldier C, Soldier D, Soldier F, Soldier G (deceased) and Soldier L (deceased) all fired at a window in Block 1 of the flats where a photographer had sought to take pictures out of a window.

However there was no admissible evidence capable of identifying Soldier C or Soldier D as being amongst those who fired. There was evidence which could be adduced to prove Soldier F was one but there was also evidence to support a defence that soldiers believed their target was a gunman.

In all of the above cases, the PPS made a decision not to prosecute these soldiers in connection with these incidents.

Sector 4

This section considered events in Glenfada Park North and Abbey Park.

James Wray and William McKinney were shot and killed at Glenfada Park. Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell were shot and injured.

In Abbey Park, Gerard McKinney and Gerald Donaghey were shot and killed. 

Four soldiers were reported in this incident – Soldiers F, H, G and E. Soldier G and Soldier E have since died and can’t be prosecuted.

Soldier F is being prosecuted in the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and the attempted murder of four others.

In the case of Soldier H, the PPS said there was no admissible evidence to prove he’d fired his weapon on Bloody Sunday.

In the case of the now-deceased Soldier G, the Saville Inquiry “had no doubt” that he shot and killed Gerard McKinney and Gerald Donaghey.

Sector 5

This area concerned events to the rear of Rossville Flats, where a kneeling soldier is alleged to have fired from the corner of Glenfada Park North into this location.

Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty were shot and killed here. Daniel McGowan and Patrick Campbell were shot and injured.

The only soldier reported in this incident was Soldier F. 

The Saville Inquiry concluded that he was responsible for killing both Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty and that it was highly probable that he was responsible for the injuries sustained by Daniel McGowan and Patrick Campbell.

The only evidence that Soldier F fired his weapon from the corner was from Soldier G, who is now deceased. In some, but not all, accounts this Soldier G had given, he placed Soldier F at that scene.

soldier f PPS reasoning in this case

The PPS said: “Having regard to the importance that this evidence would hold (it would be sole and decisive evidence), the serious reliability issues in relation to this soldier’s evidence (he had shot and killed persons in Abbey Park and failed to mention this in his own accounts) and the difficulties a court would face in testing and assessing this evidence, the PPS concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of a court admitting this evidence for use against Soldier F.”

In the case of the alleged involvement of Official IRA members, there is no suggestion that any shots discharged by them hit any soldier or caused any injury. 

Reaction

Although charges have only been brought in the cases of two of the killings, the families of victims today described today as a “remarkable achievement”. 

In a statement issued by the families through Madden & Finucane Solicitors, they said:

“Notwithstanding the unprecedented attempted political interference with the independence of the judicial process, the families have not only succeeded in consigning the Widgery report to history, and securing the complete vindication and declaration of innocence of all of the victims of Bloody Sunday through the Saville Inquiry, they have now secured the prosecution of Soldier F for the murder and attempted murder of six innocent people.”

However, they added: “We are disappointed that not all of those responsible are to face trial.”

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About the author:

Sean Murray & Michelle Hennessy

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