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Death threats against SDLP’s Eastwood after naming Soldier F in Commons condemned

  • Naming individual ‘not right thing to do,’ says chair of Bloody Sunday inquiry
  • Justice Minister says court orders should be respected

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP in House of Commons

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP in House of Commons

Lord Saville, who chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Lord Saville, who chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

PA

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP in House of Commons

Death threats made against SDLP leader Colum Eastwood after he named Soldier F in the House of Commons have been condemned.

The Foyle MP has passed on details of the threats to police.

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “I fundamentally condemn anyone who would threaten Colum in this way. We can disagree without death threats.”

Police said a complaint had been received of threatening and offensive comments made online on Thursday, July 15, and they were investigating.

Mr Eastwood revealed that he has received death threats online and via email.

"It is not nice, particularly when you have a family," Mr Eastwood told the BBC.

"I did what I thought was right on behalf of the Bloody Sunday families. Those people have faced a whole lot worse than death threats."

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Meanwhile, the chairman of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry has said it was “not the right thing to do” for the politician to name Soldier F in parliament. 

Justice Minister Naomi Long also said court orders should be respected. 

The MP disregarded a court order granting the Bloody Sunday soldier anonymity by naming him. Parliamentary privilege allows MPs freedom of speech without consequence. Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle defended Mr Eastwood saying he broke no rules and it was for others to decide if the matter was in the public interest. 

Soldier F is facing two murder charges over the killings of William McKinney and James Wray and five attempted murder charges for his actions on Bloody Sunday in 1972 when 13 people were shot dead by paratroopers.

However, the PPS has indicated it is to drop the case after a previous court ruled evidence submitted in another murder could not be used. The case is on hold pending a legal challenge.

Lord Saville, who chaired the wide-ranging inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday said the reasons behind the court ruling on anonymity for the veteran soldier remained valid. 

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster: “As far as we were concerned we were directed by the courts [for his inquiry] to provide anonymity not just to him but to a very large number of people for the reasons set out in detail in court and which we loyally complied with.

"I think on the whole it was not right thing to do [to name Soldier F]. The court set out in detail to provide anonymity.. and those reasons remain valid.”

On the matter of the government’s plans for an amnesty, he was asked if he thought those involved in Bloody Sunday should avoid prosecution, he said he did not hold a particular opinion but acknowledged the strong views of those on both sides of the argument.

“It is a very difficult decision to decide what to do with such strong feelings on both sides and legitimate concerns on both sides.”

He said putting a time limit on justice “depended on the circumstances” and said the government proposals for a truth recovery process mirrored that of South Africa as it emerged from apartheid. 

Asked about that truth recovery process and if perpetrators of crimes in NI would cooperate, he added: “We spent a long time trying to get people to tell the truth, in some cases we got close to it and in others we had to infer from all the evidence of what happened.

"Some will cooperate and others won’t.”

The plan to end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998, applying to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries, has been met with disapproval across NI, in Belfast, as well as in Dublin.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she believed it was not right to overrule a court order and name individuals using parliamentary privilege.

"We have seen parliamentary privilege used on many occasions against individuals who were subsequently not involved and their lives have been ruined by information put into the public domain,” she said. 

"This is a different case when, as Colum says, the individual’s actions are a matter of public record but I do think when judges grant anonymity for a purpose that should be respected.”

Earlier, on the same programme the Foyle MP defended his naming of Soldier F in parliament. 

Asked where his respect was for the law, the SDLP leader responded: “I have respect for victims first and foremost. I have respect for those people who for almost 50 years struggled for truth and justice against people like Soldier F. 

“The idea he should be some protected species is beyond me.”

He added: “Has the law or the system or the state respected the people of Bloody Sunday?

"Through his own admission during the Saville inquiry we know what Soldier F did, we have known his name for 25 years, it has been plastered all over the walls of Derry and all over social media. 

"The families have had to deal with this for 50 odd years, it is a disgrace someone can be granted anonymity for 50 years, be able to keep that anonymity and then get an amnesty. 

"Why is he so special? Why is he being protected by the British state? It is astonishing to me.

"We know what he did, it is public what he did, it was all over the Saville inquiry. I stand over what I did and I would do it again. “

Mr Eastwood also stated that “we know the names of everybody that goes to court just accused of something before hearing any evidence”. However, often judges do grant anonymity prohibiting the publication of names in certain circumstances including when there is considered a threat against a person. 

Meanwhile, the Solicitor General said the government would be "engaging" with different groups over its proposal to introduce the amnesty.

Asked whether it was time for a "rethink", Lucy Frazer told Sky News: "The issue in relation to this is that as time moves on, the chances of getting a successful conviction gets lower.

"I know that this issue is causing a lot of issues in Ireland and it is important we engage on this subject, and that rifts are developing.

"I know the Government is engaging with all parties, it will continue to do so before it brings forward any legislation."


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