The Bloody Sunday families have vowed to continue their campaign for justice after it was announced that only one former paratrooper is to be prosecuted over the shootings.
The veteran, known as Soldier F, will face charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell in Londonderry in 1972, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service said.
However, the PPS said 16 other former soldiers and two suspected ex-members of the Official IRA, all of whom were also investigated as part of a major police murder probe, will not face prosecution.
Thirteen civil rights demonstrators were shot dead on January 30 1972, on one of the most notorious days of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Relatives of those who died reacted with a mix of vindication, disappointment and defiance.
While welcoming the news for the six families directly impacted by the decision to prosecute Soldier F – declaring that a “victory” – the campaigners said they would keep fighting for the other dead and injured.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead, said: “The dead cannot cry out for justice, it is the duty of the living to do so for them. We have cried out for them for many years, and now we have succeeded for them. Do not deny us justice any longer.”
Mickey McKinney, who is set to see Soldier F in court over the murder of his brother Willie, said: “For us here today it is important to point out that justice for one family is justice for all of us.”
The families had marched together from the scene of the shootings in Derry’s Bogside neighbourhood to a city centre hotel on Thursday morning to be informed of the PPS’s long-awaited decisions.
Afterwards, many of them visibly upset, they walked the short distance to the Guildhall civic building to give their reaction.
Mr Kelly highlighted there were legal means of challenging the decisions not to prosecute.
“The Bloody Sunday families are not finished yet,” he said.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the Ministry of Defence would support Soldier F and pay his legal costs.
“We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today’s decision.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman echoed Mr Williamson’s words, adding: “We recognise the suffering of anyone who lost loved ones during the Troubles.”
Mr Kelly heavily criticised Mr Williamson for his support for measures to potentially protect veterans from historic prosecutions, calling on the authorities to investigate whether his past remarks, and similar comments by other politicians, “broke the law”.
“If they have, they should be charged,” he said. “They cannot attempt to interfere in a judicial process just because they don’t like it, or because their voters don’t like it.”
As well as the 13 who died on the day, 15 others were shot and injured. One of the injured died months later from an inoperable tumour and some consider him the 14th fatality.
Prosecutors had been considering evidence in relation to potential counts of murder, attempted murder and causing grievous injury with intent.
Bloody Sunday helped galvanise support for the Provisional IRA early in the Troubles. An image of a Catholic priest waving a bloodstained handkerchief as he tried to help a victim to safety went around the world.
A public inquiry conducted by a senior judge shortly after the deaths was branded a whitewash by victims’ families and a campaign was launched for a new public inquiry.
Relatives sought to right the wrongs of false claims that their loved ones had been armed. A fresh probe was eventually ordered by then prime minister Tony Blair in 1998.
A decade-long investigation by Lord Saville concluded that the troops killed protesters who posed no threat.
Following the inquiry’s conclusion in 2010, then prime minister David Cameron said the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
A murder investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) followed the £195 million inquiry and files on 18 soldiers were submitted to prosecutors in 2016 and 2017 for consideration. One has since died. Four other soldiers included in the Saville Report died before police had completed their investigation.
Papers before prosecutors included 668 witness statements and numerous photos, video and audio evidence.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said the families of the victims are the “most important people in this matter”.
“I know that the department of foreign affairs is in contact with them on behalf of the government,” he added.
“All of our thoughts are with the families on what must be a very emotional day.”