Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday: United in mutual support, families had high hopes of justice... but news left them reeling

 

Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Their soft voices may have whispered a "no comment" but the solemn faces of the Bloody Sunday families spoke volumes about their disappointment as they filed slowly out of their meeting with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) yesterday morning.

The relatives of the 13 people shot dead by the Parachute Regiment on January 30, 1972, had waited 47 years for justice, but for many of them their hopes were dashed yesterday in an instant in an upstairs conference room of the City Hotel in Londonderry.

For some the revelation that one Para, 'Soldier F', is to be charged with murder was hailed as a vindication of their decades-long campaign for prosecutions.

But even they expressed heartbreak and sadness that they weren't marking a complete victory because the other Bloody Sunday families were not getting their day in court.

Just an hour earlier a biting wind had whipped in off the Peace Bridge as the relatives of victims of one of the most notorious days in Northern Ireland's grim history finished their walk from the scene of the slayings in the Bogside to the talks which, they hoped, would open the door to closure in the form of ex-Paras being charged with murder.

The thoughts of the families were clearly in flashback mode to their dead loved ones as they retraced some of the steps of the banned civil rights march that was ended by 108 bullets fired by the Paras.

Yesterday the relatives even reprised the old civil rights anthem - We Shall Overcome - as they approached their date with destiny at the City Hotel.

The families had their mobile phones taken from them so they couldn't leak news of the PPS decision to an expectant crowd outside, but their reaction afterwards was all that was needed to communicate what they had been told.

Body language was enough to say it all, and one politician who had been privy to the PPS announcement left the hotel with an anything but cryptic aside: "We're in for a tough day."

Shortly afterwards the downcast families travelled the short distance to the Guildhall in almost stunned silence.

A few dozen people braved the rain and wind to applaud the relatives into their city's civic hub.

It was all so different from 3,194 days earlier in June 2010 when thousands packed a sunny Guildhall Square to roar a welcome for the results of the Saville Inquiry, which exonerated all the Bloody Sunday victims, and to hear former Prime Minister David Cameron apologise for the Army's behaviour.

It was a much more sombre gathering yesterday as dozens of family members listened as John Kelly, whose brother Michael Kelly was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, opened a news conference at which he tried but didn't entirely succeed in sounding positive about the PPS ruling.

"I was going to say good morning. But I don't think it is," he said, before describing the charging of only one soldier with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and four attempted murders as a "terrible disappointment".

But referring to the McKinney and Wray families, he said: "Their victory is our victory."

Mr McKinney's brother Michael said if Bloody Sunday had been properly investigated 47 years ago the outcome in terms of prosecutions could have been different. After the news conference Jim Wray's brother John was still shaking with emotion. "I can't stop," he said as he clutched a poster of his brother.

"I've been in shock ever since I heard that Soldier F was going to be prosecuted over my brother's murder. I wasn't expecting that.

"It's a relief that after 47 years of struggling on with the campaign someone is going to be held accountable, but at the same time there's a great sadness for the other families who are highly disappointed that they're not receiving justice.

"I'm not a lawyer so I can't comment on all the circumstances of evidence and what not."

Mr Wray said Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron and three other members of his staff were present as a prepared statement was read to the families in the City Hotel, breaking down all the deaths sector by sector.

He added that there were gasps and sighs in the room when the DPP repeated "no prosecution" in relation to most of the shootings, meaning that 16 of the 17 soldiers under investigation weren't being charged with anything.

He went on: "It hasn't been a glorious day all-round.

Linda Nash, whose brother William Nash was killed, is comforted by Eamonn McCann
Linda Nash, whose brother William Nash was killed, is comforted by Eamonn McCann
Kay Duddy, whose brother Jackie Duddy was killed, hugs Andrew McCartney
Crowds celebrate the findings of the Saville Inquiry outside the Guildhall in 2010
Colum Eastwood and Mark Durkan at the Guildhall
Relatives gather outside the City Hotel after meeting Public Prosecution Service

"Obviously I was thinking about James today and what he might have achieved if he hadn't been shot dead on Bloody Sunday. I feel for everyone who has lost out because of the conflict, but the state has a responsibility to look after its citizens and when something like this happens to you it's a bit harsher."

Two sisters, Linda and Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed and father Alexander injured on Bloody Sunday, said they were devastated but vowed their fight for justice would go on.

Kate said: "It was shocking but I still thought we would get prosecutions. This is the second worst thing to happen for me after Bloody Sunday."

Linda said what she was dreading was the prospect of telling her children there would be no prosecutions over the killings of their loved ones.

A lawyer for the Bloody Sunday families, Ciaran Shiels of Madden and Finucane solicitors, said he was "disappointed that not all those responsible" for the killings will face trial.

He added: "We will give detailed consideration to the reasons provided for decisions not to prosecute the other soldiers, with a view to making further submissions to the Prosecution Service.

"We shall ultimately challenge in the High Court, by way of judicial review, any prosecutorial decision that does not withstand scrutiny."

Mr Shiels said getting the prosecution was a "remarkable achievement" for the families and added that it was a matter of concern that the PPS and the PSNI didn't start their inquiry into Bloody Sunday of their own volition after Saville, and only did so after submissions from the relatives and their legal advisers.

"And for a period the Bloody Sunday murder investigation was put on ice because of a funding issue. And that was another cause of concern," he added.

John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot dead by the Paras at Ballymurphy in 1971, travelled to Derry from the ongoing inquest into the 10 deaths in Belfast to show solidarity with the Bloody Sunday families.

"I have mixed emotions," he said. Referring to news that Soldier F is to be charged, he added: "It's a victory for the families, and a victory for them is a victory for us also."

But he voiced disappointment that others were not charged.

Among politicians at the Guildhall were SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, former party leader Mark Durkan, who is standing for Fine Gael in the European elections in the Republic, and Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Raymond McCartney.

Denis Bradley, a past Policing Board vice-chairman who was a priest in Derry on Bloody Sunday, said the PPS announcement represented a bad day for justice, describing the claim about a lack of evidence as "almost an insult" to the witnesses who testified at the Saville Inquiry.

Rev David Latimer from First Derry Presbyterian Church said he had gone as a Protestant and a unionist to the Guildhall to "identify with my neighbours", as he had done every year at the Bloody Sunday prayer service in the city.

He said members of his own church had lost their lives to the IRA, adding: "We have to try and sort out how we can help each other to recover from what has happened in the past and to move forward in a way that is going to give our children a future that is different to the past that has allowed a cloud to hang over our city."

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