Bloody Sunday prosecutions would be disastrous, says DUP MP Gregory Campbell
Prosecuting Bloody Sunday soldiers for murder could prove disastrous for efforts to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past, a senior unionist politician has claimed.
The DUP's Gregory Campbell has said prosecuting retired soldiers for murder, while republicans behind other Troubles attacks are not pursued by the authorities, would demonstrate "the perversity at the heart of dealing with the past".
The East Londonderry MP's comments come after reports that up to 20 retired British soldiers face being arrested and questioned by the police for murder, attempted murder or criminal injury over their roles in the events of January 30, 1972.
The shooting in the nationalist Bogside area of Derry left 14 people dead and many others injured.
A source told the Sunday Times the interviews under police caution were "expected imminently".
However, last night a source close to the investigation told the Belfast Telegraph that at this stage interviews into the massacre 41 years ago are not expected to take place for another 12 months.
The PSNI confirmed it would be conducting a murder investigation last July, after police officers and staff from the Public Prosecution Service reviewed the findings of the £200m, 12-year Saville Inquiry, published just over three years ago.
Lord Saville concluded all those shot by paratroopers during the civil rights march in Derry were unarmed and that the killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable".
The inquiry found that 26 soldiers, including privates, corporals, lance corporals and sergeants had opened fire, although not all of them had hit marchers and bystanders.
It also said two soldiers, identified only as Lance-Corporal F and Soldier G, probably shot "eight or 10 people".
After publication of the report in June 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal public apology to the families for the actions of the Army on one of the most controversial days in Northern Ireland's history.
The PSNI has previously said it expects the murder investigation to take at least four years and involve a team of 30 detectives.
Fresh interviews have to be conducted, as police are precluded from using Saville testimony in a criminal investigation.
In a statement, Mr Campbell said: "If newspaper reports prove to be accurate that soldiers who were in the Bogside in Londonderry on the day known as Bloody Sunday are to be prosecuted, this could prove disastrous in how our society deals with the past.
"For many years those at the helm in the IRA have either denied being in the organisation, like Gerry Adams, or will not talk about any events that happened when they were, like Martin McGuinness.
"This has resulted in no action by police or Prosecution Service against them.
"If it transpires that troops, who were in the Bogside because of the actions of the IRA who had murdered more than 100 people before Bloody Sunday and had caused massive destruction and unrest also, this would demonstrate the perversity at the heart of dealing with the past.
"I was criticised at the time of the Saville Report. I hope those who would normally be on the side of those of us who are opposed to violent republicanism but who applauded David Cameron's apology will have the decency to hang their heads in shame if this report proves to be accurate."
On January 30, 1972, paratroopers opened fire on civil rights marchers in the Bogside area of Derry. Thirteen males, including seven teenagers, died instantly or soon after. Fourteen others were wounded, including John Johnston, who died four-and-a-half months later from his injuries. The 1972 Widgery Inquiry into what became known as Bloody Sunday was regarded as a whitewash by nationalists.
A fresh investigation – The Saville Inquiry – ran from 1998 to 2010 and cost more than £200m. The inquiry included 2,500 witness statements, 922 oral statements, 160 volumes of evidence, 121 audiotapes and 110 videotapes. On June 15, 2010. The 14 Bloody Sunday victims were: John Young (17); Gerald Donaghy (17); John 'Jackie' Duddy (17); Hugh Gilmour (17); Michael Kelly (17); Michael McDaid (20); Kevin McElhinney (17); William Nash (19); James Wray (22); William McKinney (27); Patrick Doherty (31); Gerard McKinney (35); Bernard McGuigan (41), and John Johnston (59).