The murder trial of the only British soldier charged for Bloody Sunday has collapsed after prosecutors deemed key evidence in the form of military police statements was inadmissible.
The unnamed former paratrooper referred to as Soldier F was charged with two murders and five attempted murders in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972 when 13 people were shot dead by British soldiers; 14 more people were injured, one of whom later died. In 2019 Soldier F became the only soldier to be charged. The evidence against 15 other former soldiers was considered insufficient.
Prosecutors also said that proceedings against a veteran called Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty, and the wounding of his cousin Christopher Hegarty, in the same city less than six months after Bloody Sunday, will not commence.
Both soldiers F and B gave statements to the Royal Military Police (RMP) shortly after the shootings. However, neither solider was cautioned before making statements that have been key evidence in the trials. The statements have now been deemed inadmissible by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The decision follows the collapse of a trial in April, when two former soldiers were accused of murdering an IRA commander in Belfast on April 15, 1972.
As in the Soldier F and Soldier B trials, this trial of former soldiers relied on the statements they made to the RMP shortly after the shooting. The Guardian reported that judge Mr Justice O’Hara excluded the statements as inadmissible and prosecutors did not appeal against his decision, leading to the trial’s collapse.
The PPS said this meant Soldier F and Soldier B’s statements are now also inadmissible, thereby collapsing the murder trials against them.
The director of Northern Ireland’s PPS Stephen Herron said: “I recognise these decisions bring further pain to victims and bereaved families who have relentlessly sought justice for almost 50 years and have faced many setbacks”.
He said the RMP evidence “led to the conclusion that a reasonable prospect of conviction no longer existed in proceedings against both Soldier B and Soldier F”.
Herron stressed the outcome “does not undermine previous findings that those killed and injured in these tragic incidents were entirely innocent”.
Victims’ families waiting in vain for truth and justice
“The fact is, no British soldier who took part in Bloody Sunday, where men and boys were shot in the street, will ever face any punishment, and those in charge were decorated by the Queen,” tweeted Irish Examiner’s political correspondent Aoife Moore. “Thinking of all the families and the people of Derry today. Justice denied.”
The PPS decision will impact other cases against former soldiers and police officers that rely on RMP statements as evidence. Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent reports there are between “150 and 200 former soldiers and police” under investigation for their alleged actions during the Troubles – a conflict that killed more than 3,600 people between 1968-98.
“Friday’s decision [to collapse the trials] puts a question mark over the handful that had been expected to proceed to court,” writes Carroll, adding: “The trickle of prosecutions that makes it to court tend to fail, leaving victims’ families waiting in vain for truth and justice.”
Tony Doherty , the chairperson of the Bloody Sunday Trust said the decision “means that victims of state violence basically have been told that justice cannot be achieved within the Northern State.”
He added: “No family should be forced to struggle for 50 years to achieve truth and justice.
“There are no more channels available. British no longer has any moral authority in the North of Ireland.”
‘This is not over,’ says Colum Eastwood MP
The MP for Foyle, Colum Eastwood of the SDLP called the decision not to prosecute “bitterly disappointing” and said the families have been badly let down again.
“This is a devastating news today. Devastating for the Bloody Sunday families and the family of Daniel Hegarty who have placed their faith in process after process only to be let down badly as they seek justice and accountability for the murder of their loved ones. But devastating also because of the message it sends to the world.
“It is galling that these cases appear to have collapsed because the British Army’s historical investigation process was so deficient that the evidence collected is considered to be inadmissible.
“The Bloody Sunday Families and Daniel Hegarty’s family have been through worse days than this and they have marched on with dignity, decency and pride. The people of Derry have stood with them on every step of their long march toward justice, we’re with them today and we’ll be with them until the end. The SDLP will continue to stand with them in the next phase of this campaign. This is not over.”
There will be a solidarity rally in Derry today (July 3) with the families of victims and supporters gathering at the city’s Guildhall Square for 3pm.