Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday: Former colonel who served in Londonderry insists decision to prosecute soldier is wrong

Colonel Bob Stewart
Colonel Bob Stewart
Colonel Richard Kemp
Conservative MP Johnny Mercer

By Gillian Halliday

A retired Army colonel who served in Londonderry two years before Bloody Sunday has described the prosecution of Soldier F as "wrong".

Bob Stewart, now a Conservative MP, was speaking out in defence of the veteran, who is facing murder charges over the deaths of James Wray and William McKinney in Londonderry on January 30, 1972. He is also facing prosecution for the attempted murders of four others.

Mr Stewart, who completed seven operational tours of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, said that while he was pleased 16 other former soldiers facing prosecution were not being charged, he was sorry that one is.

"I totally accept the families are deeply upset that only one soldier is facing charges, and the actions of the Army were wrong that day, but they didn't do it deliberately, it was in human error," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Stewart said the difference between a soldier and a terrorist is that the latter sets out to deliberately take human life.

He added: "I am sorry that 14 people lost their lives. Mistakes were made on Bloody Sunday as Saville demonstrated, big mistakes... but they were not acts of deliberation."

Adding that he was "not trying to justify what happened", he pointed out that he had supported the apology made by the then Prime Minister David Cameron, who had described the actions of the Army as "unjustified and unjustifiable".

The Bloody Sunday families carried a banner reading ‘towards justice’ as they marched to Londonderry’s Guildhall on Thursday (Niall Carson/PA)
The Bloody Sunday families carried a banner reading ‘towards justice’ as they marched to Londonderry’s Guildhall on Thursday (Niall Carson/PA)
John Kelly comforts Alana Burke
Families embraced after the march (Niall Carson/PA)
A minute’s silence at the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)
Families of those killed in Bloody Sunday speak to the media at the Guild Hall. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Relatives march to the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)
Relatives of those who died on Bloody Sunday after hearing the prosecution decision (Niall Carson/PA)
(PA Graphics)
Families march through the Bogside in Derry (Liam McBurney/PA)
John Kelly whose brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday (Niall Carson/PA)
James Wray (left) and William McKinney, who died on Bloody Sunday (PA/Bloody Sunday Trust)
The Bloody Sunday Memorial in Derry’s Bogside (Liam McBurney/PA)
Mickey McKinney looks at a photo on the wall of the Museum of Free Derry (Liam McBurney/PA)
A mural in Derry depicting Dr Edward Daly during Bloody Sunday in January 1972 (Liam McBurney/PA)
Families of those died march through the Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, towards the Guildhall ahead of the announcement as to whether 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will be prosecuted in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John McKinney holds a picture of his brother, William, as the families of those who died march through the Bogside in Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, ahead of an announcement over the prosecution of 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Families of those died march through the Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, towards the Guildhall ahead of the announcement as to whether 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will be prosecuted in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Families of those died march through the Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, towards the Guildhall ahead of the announcement as to whether 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will be prosecuted in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Retransmission, amending byline. Politicians Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill (left), Elisha McCallion, MP for Foyle, (centre) and SDLP's Colum Eastwood (right) join families before a march through the Bogside in Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, ahead of an announcement over the prosecution of 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Families of those who died march through the Bogside in Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, ahead of an announcement over the prosecution of 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Families, relatives and supporters of those who died march through Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, ahead of an announcement over the prosecution of 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE Bloody Sunday Trust undated handout photos of (top row, left to right) Patrick Doherty, Bernard McGuigan, John "Jackie" Duddy and Gerald Donaghey, (bottom row, left to right) Gerard McKinney, Jim Wray, William McKinney and John Young who were killed on Bloody Sunday. Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions has announced that a solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday March 14, 2019. Thirteen civil rights demonstrators were shot dead on January 30 1972, in Londonderry on one of the most notorious days of the Northern Ireland Troubles. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Bloody Sunday Trust/PA Wire
Families, relatives and supporters of those died gather outside the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after the announcement from the Public Prosecution Service that one former paratrooper, soldier F is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Families, relatives and supporters of those died gather outside the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after the announcement from the Public Prosecution Service that one former paratrooper, soldier F is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Supporters hold a posters of Edward Heath former British Prime Minister and General Sir Michael David Jackson outside the city hotel Londonderry, Northern Ireland ahead of the announcement as to whether 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will be prosecuted in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Linda Nash whose youngest brother William Nash died on Bloody Sunday with Eamonn McCann outside the city hotel Londonderry, Northern Ireland ahead of the announcement as to whether 17 former British soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will be prosecuted in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
L-R Gerry Duddy, Mickey McKinney, John Kelly and the families of those who were killed hold a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
John Kelly comforts Alana Burke who was injured on Bloody Sunday reacts during the press conference at the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after the announcement from the Public Prosecution Service that one former paratrooper, soldier F is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
L-R Linda Nash, holds an image of their brother William Nash who was killed on Bloody Sunday, and Kate Nash holds an image of their father Alex Nash who was wounded on the day inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
A woman listens on during a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Relatives of those who died march to the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after the announcement from the Public Prosecution Service that one former paratrooper, soldier F is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Two woman watch on as families of those who were killed hold a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Families of those who were killed hold a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Relatives of those who died on Bloody Sunday leaving a briefing with DPP Stephen Herron at the City Hotel Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after the announcement from the Public Prosecution Service that one former paratrooper, soldier F is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (left) and new Fine Gael MEP candidate Mark Durkan attending a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry after the Public Prosecution Service announced that one solider will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell on Bloody Sunday in the city in January 1972. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 14, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Sunday. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
John Teggart from the Ballymurphy Families speaks with Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and SDLP's Colum Eastwood at the City Hotel in Derry. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
L-R Jean Hegarty, sister of Kevin McElhinney, John Wray, brother of James Wray, and Paddy Nash, brother of William Nash, stand for a minute's silence with the families of those who were killed, ahead of a press conference inside the Guildhall in Londonderry. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

"He (Soldier F) didn't go out to murder, if you listen to the soldiers they felt they were under fire," he added.

Describing the court prosecution of Soldier F as "wrong", he emphasised that soldiers serving in Londonderry at that time were under immense pressure.

In 1970, Mr Stewart was attached to the 1 Battalion The Cheshire Regiment.

He recalled one incident which took place in the vicinity where Bloody Sunday would unfold two years later.

"I was caught by a crowd of women, who knocked me to the ground and took off my helmet and started hitting my head with a rock," he added. "Their intention was not benign, their intention was to hurt me, and even try to kill me."

The Beckenham MP said that in same year he had witnessed "one third" of the platoon being hospitalised with injuries - including burns - sustained while carrying out their duties.

He continued: "We were deployed there to look after the Catholic population of Londonderry and try to keep the peace. The British Army did not wish to open fire."

Other high-profile Army personnel spoke out in defence of Soldier F yesterday.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who also served here, branded the decision to prosecute Soldier F "wrong".

"I think it is wrong for any soldier to be prosecuted over this," he told the BBC. "Not because there weren't real problems. I think if there is enough evidence to consider a soldier is guilty of a serious offence he should face the law. But we have got a unique situation here.

"Hardened, known terrorist criminals have been released early from jail. Others have been given royal pardons. Others have been given letters of comfort.

"There is no intention of pursuing or prosecuting them and it is wrong for soldiers to be treated even worse than hardened terrorist killers, torturers and killers."

He continued: "Political decisions have been taken not to prosecute and not to imprison IRA terrorists who were setting out to go and kill and bomb innocent civilians.

"Whereas soldiers who were there to protect innocent civilians were - and in this case clearly acted wrongly - these soldiers must be prosecuted."

Conservative Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain, hit out at his party yesterday in a tweet that said the charges brought against Soldier F were the result of "an abject failure to govern and legislate, on our watch as a Conservative administration".

"When I speak of a chasm between those who serve and their political masters in this country, I mean this," he added.

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