March 14 (UPI) — Forty-seven years after the Bloody Sunday massacre that left 14 civil rights activists dead in Northern Ireland, a former U.K. soldier will be charged with murder and attempted murder.
The Public Prosecution Service will charge an unnamed former soldier, identified as Soldier F, for killing two men, James Wray and William McKinney, and for the attempted murder of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell. The announcement brought shock and anger in Derry, Northern Ireland, on Thursday.
Families of massacre victims marched from the Bloody Sunday memorial in the Bogside to the City Hotel where prosecution officials said they would prosecute one soldier.
“I am mindful that it has been a long road for the families to reach this point and today will be another extremely difficult day for many of them,” Public Prosecution Service director Stephen Herron said.
The prosecution service acts independently of the U.K. government and “no one can make the PPS prosecute a particular case, nor stop it from doing so,” the PPS mission statement says.
Prosecutors said they didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge other suspects. Seventeen former soldiers and two alleged members of the Irish Republican Army could have faced charges altogether.
“In these circumstances, the evidential Test for Prosecution is not met,” the PPS said. Remaining suspects could still face perjury charges, however.
Five additional U.K. soldiers who would have been suspects in the killings have since died.
Herron said the PPS met with the families of the victims to explain the decision not to prosecute the other suspects and acknowledges their disappointment, especially following the release of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which examined the events that took place in 1972.
In late January of that year, U.K. troops fired upon a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the internment, without trial, of more than 300 suspected members of the IRA. However, a disputed 1972 U.K. report said the soldiers were fired on first. The soldiers had also learned of intelligence indicating the IRA might use the parade as cover for an attack.
“We have spent time with them this morning, given them detailed information and we are committed to further engagement over the coming period,” Herron said. “There has been a level of expectation around the prosecution decisions in light of the findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. However, much of the material which was available for consideration by the Inquiry is not admissible in criminal proceedings due to strict rules of evidence that apply.”
The PPS released a Summary of Decisions report to explain the decision not to prosecute. It said the Bloody Sunday Inquiry cannot be used as evidence in the case and the prosecution must be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt.
“On a number of occasions the inquiry made findings that certain matters were probable,” the PPS report states. “A finding that something was probable, or even highly probable, would be an insufficient basis for conviction in a criminal trial.”
The inquiry identified several cases where unjustified shots were taken at activists that resulted in deaths on Bloody Sunday.
“The PPS cannot rely upon significant material that was available to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry when it made its findings,” the PPS said.