Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday soldiers could face life sentences for deaths

Warning: Dr Austen Morgan
Warning: Dr Austen Morgan
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A legal expert has said "all bets are off" over whether soldiers facing prosecution for Bloody Sunday could face life sentences.

A total of 14 people died after paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights march in Londonderry on January 30, 1972.

It's now been claimed that four soldiers are to face prosecution, with the Public Prosecution Service due to meet the families of victims and make an announcement on March 14.

Dr Austen Morgan is a barrister in London and Belfast and the author of The Belfast Agreement: A Practical Legal Analysis (2000).

He said a number of factors made it unclear as to what punishment the soldiers could face.

The Good Friday Agreement included a clause that anyone convicted of a "scheduled offence" between 1973 and April 1998 would serve a maximum of two years in prison.

It had been widely assumed this only applied to members of terrorist organisations, but Dr Morgan said there was no reason this shouldn't also apply to members of the security forces.

As Bloody Sunday took place in 1972, however, he said the soldiers could not depend on this.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to bring forward legislation to protect soldiers, with a 10 year limit on prosecution for historic offences.

It's understood this would have to apply to terrorist offences as well.

Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
A young Fr Edward Daly (now Bishop Daly) carries a blood-soaked hankie as he leads a group of men trying desperately to carry John 'Jackie' Duddy to safety. Duddy (17) was the first fatality of Bloody Sunday after being shot from behind by paratroopers
Paddy Doherty, who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
A scene showing a British paratrooper near Glenfada Park in Derry where Bloody Sunday took place.
30th January 1972: An armed soldier and a protestor on Bloody Sunday when British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civilians on a civil rights march.
William McKinney, killed on Bloody Sunday.
Lt Col Derek Wilford, the former commander of the members of the Parachute Regiment involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings
A protest parade in was staged in Londonderry in January to mark the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday
Hugh Gilmore who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
St Mary's Church, on the Creggan Estate, during the Requiem Mass for the 13 who died on 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry.
Michael McDaid who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
:Bloody Sunday.
Soldiers taking cover behind their sandbagged armoured cars during Bloody Sunday
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery in his room at the Old Bailey as he looks through his report on the "Bloody Sunday" shootings
Jim Wray who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
John Young who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
William McKinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Kevin McElhinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Gerard McKinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Gerald Donaghey who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Alana Burke who was eighteen when she was run over by an armoured personnel carrier on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday. January 1972
Patrick Doherty who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday. Funeral. Mrs Ita McKinney, 9 months pregnant cries behind the hearse carrying her husband James from St Mary's, Creggan. 2/2/1972.
Michael Kelly who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Scenes from 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
A man receiving attention during the shooting incident in Londonderry, which became known as Bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
JAMES WRAY IN HIS HOME IN THE BOGSIDE DERRY HOLDING THE COAT WITH BULLIET HOLES IN THAT HIS SON ALSO CALLED JAMES WRAY WAS KILLED ON BLOODY SUNDAY
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
The start of a grim day in Derry. Civil Rights marchers make their way through Creggan. They defied a Government ban and headed for Guildhall Square, but were stopped by the Army in William Street. 31/1/1972
Bloody Sunday 1972
Linda Nash carries flowers with the number 14 inscribed during yesterdays annual Bloody Sunday Parade in Derry. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 29.1.12
A memorial to those killed on Bloody Sunday in the Bogside area of Derry
The memorial to the 14 people who died on Bloody Sunday in Derry rises from among the sea of umbrellas as all the families came together in an ecumenical service. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights mark.The service included contributions from Father Michael Canny and Reverend David Latimer, left. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 29.1.12

"All bets are off," said Dr Morgan.

"Once you have partial and secret amnesties, the only way forward is for amnesties all round."

Either way, he said a successful prosecution was unlikely.

"Anything that was said in the Saville report has immunity and none of the soldiers are likely to admit any responsibility."

He added: "The security services have been far more organised in the last five years and quite a few MPs have a military background. So, at present, their idea of a legislative opt-out is very much on the table".

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