Belfast Telegraph

British Legion does not back Soldier F flags, says Bloody Sunday family

John McKinney
John McKinney
John McKinney's brother William, who was killed on Bloody Sunday
Charles Byrne of the Royal British Legion
A Soldier F banner
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The brother of one of the alleged victims of 'Soldier F' on Bloody Sunday has claimed that the Royal British Legion told his family it does not support the campaign backing the veteran paratrooper.

Soldier F is expected to appear in a court in Londonderry next month to be charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney.

He will also be charged with the attempted murder of four other people in Londonderry on January 30, 1972.

John McKinney told the Belfast Telegraph his family has received a letter signed by the Director General of the Royal British Legion, Charles Byrne, distancing the organisation from the campaign backing Soldier F.

He said the people putting up banners and Parachute Regiment flags should pay attention to the veterans' charity.

Mr McKinney said: "The families wrote to the British Legion and received a letter back saying it does not support in any way, shape or form the campaign for Soldier F, which is very interesting.

"The British Legion has distanced themselves from these people who erect these banners and Para flags," he said.

"Perhaps the people who are doing this should pay attention to this and to the words of David Cameron (former prime minister) who, after the Saville report, said, 'You do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.'"

A spokeswoman for the Legion confirmed Mr Byrne had responded to the Bloody Sunday families but said the organisation did not want to influence the outcome of any court case.

She said: "The Royal British Legion is aware of the strong feeling within the Armed Forces community following the recent decisions of the Public Prosecution Service to prosecute several soldiers who served with the British Armed Forces in Northern Ireland.

"We cannot comment on ongoing criminal legal proceedings in order to ensure our voice as an organisation does not unfairly influence or risk prejudicing the trials and which could result in the organisation potentially being found in contempt of court.

"However, the Legion stands ready to provide welfare support to any individuals affected by legacy investigations, outside of legal advice. Further information regarding support services available to veterans affected by legacy investigations, including details on MoD legal support, can be found at the Veterans UK website or via the Veterans UK helpline on 0808 191 4218."

Mr McKinney also said comments made by the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggesting the prosecution of veteran soldiers "must stop", unless there is compelling evidence, showed his ignorance of the history of Northern Ireland.

He continued: "Boris Johnson needs to realise that if you wear a British Army uniform, it doesn't mean you escape justice.

"His words are deeply hurtful to the families of people who have lost loved ones at the hand of the State.

"He clearly doesn't know very much about Ireland as a whole and I would suggest he sit down with families who have lost loved ones through State violence and talk to them to educate himself about what actually went on here."

Liam Wray, whose brother Jim is another that Soldier F is set to be charged with murdering, warned Mr Johnson he was in danger of creating the impression of a two-tier legal system.

Mr Wray said: "Political interference in the justice process does not auger well for reconciliation and moving on in the north of Ireland. It is a sad day when people try and get cheap votes by trying to diminish the law, or what the law should be.

"Mr Johnson is going to make people disenfranchised and feel like second-class citizens again subject to a two-tier legal system.

"We are waiting expectantly that this person who should be getting charged in connection with the murder of our brother should face court in regards to the killing of our brother.

"That is what anyone should expect from a judicial system that is fair and not partisan.

"We are expecting to hear before the end of this month the date in August when this individual will appear in court."

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