Belfast Telegraph

Defence Secretary ‘may have jeopardised fair trial of Soldier F’

Gavin Williamson said he was saddened that protection would not be given to service personnel in time for proceedings announced on Thursday.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said recently he was saddened that protection against ‘spurious prosecutions’ would not be given to service personnel in time for Thursday’s proceedings in Londonderry (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said recently he was saddened that protection against ‘spurious prosecutions’ would not be given to service personnel in time for Thursday’s proceedings in Londonderry (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Solicitors for one of the Bloody Sunday families have contacted the Attorney General for Northern Ireland claiming Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson may have jeopardised the chances of a fair trial of a soldier due to be charged with murder.

Lawyers acting for the family of William Nash, who were told on Thursday that no soldier will face prosecution over his death, argued Mr Williamson’s comments may be in contempt of court.

One soldier, known only as F, is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday.

Following the decision announced by the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland on Thursday, Mr Williamson confirmed the Ministry of Defence would support Soldier F and pay all legal costs.

He said: “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

“The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today’s decision.

“This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support.

“The Ministry of Defence is working across Government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our Armed Forces are not unfairly treated.

“And the Government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution.”

Lawyers have taken issue with the phrase referring to efforts to ensure members of the armed forces “are not unfairly treated”.

St Mary's Church, on the Creggan Estate, during the Requiem Mass for the 13 who died on 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry.
St Mary's Church, on the Creggan Estate, during the Requiem Mass for the 13 who died on 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry.
30th January 1972: An armed soldier and a protestor on Bloody Sunday when British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civilians on a civil rights march.
A young Fr Edward 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
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
Bloody Sunday
A scene showing a British paratrooper near Glenfada Park in Derry where Bloody Sunday took place.
Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
Paddy Doherty, who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
William McKinney, killed on Bloody Sunday.
Scenes from 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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.
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.
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
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
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

In their letter to the attorney general they say it appears “Mr Williamson seeks to assert that the decision to prosecute, and the subsequent prosecution, is in some way unfair or that the accused has been, or is being, unfairly treated”.

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law, said: “Not only has the Secretary of State threatened the fairness of the judicial process, he has also shown a blatant disregard for our client and the other families affected by the events of Bloody Sunday.

“Mr Williamson seems to have forgotten that as an MP he has responsibilities to all citizens and not just the armed forces.

“Many lives in Derry were destroyed on Bloody Sunday and he would do well to be mindful of that.

“It is vital the legal process be allowed to function without attempts to influence it.”

MPs have campaigned for a statute of limitations which would prevent troops from being prosecuted for serving their country, including in Northern Ireland.

Speaking recently in a BBC interview, Mr Williamson was asked whether there should be a time limit on prosecutions of service personnel.

He said: “Absolutely, to ensure that we don’t have spurious prosecutions.”

Mr Williamson told Political Thinking With Nick Robinson’s BBC Radio 4 podcast: “No-one in the Armed Forces wants to be above the law, but what we did need to do is ensure that they do have the protection so that they don’t feel under threat.

“It’s not just about Northern Ireland, but about Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts before that and in the future.”

In response to a question about whether that would make a difference to Bloody Sunday, he continued: “Sadly, I don’t think that will come in time.

“I think we have to ask a real question as to Northern Ireland has moved on. There’s been so much progress – we’ve got to look to the future, not at the past.”

(Politicians) cannot attempt to interfere in a judicial process just because they don’t like it, or because their voters don’t like it John Kelly

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed, told reporters at a press conference at the Guildhall after families learned of news of Soldier F’s prosecution, that the attorney general should decide if the Defence Secretary or other politicians have broken the law in their comments.

Mr Kelly said: “If they have, they should be charged.

“They cannot attempt to interfere in a judicial process just because they don’t like it, or because their voters don’t like it.”

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, also accused Mr Williamson of being disrespectful by not mentioning the Bloody Sunday families in Thursday’s statement.

She said: “The comments from Gavin Williamson are deeply concerning, and the absence in his statement of any reference to the Bloody Sunday families for the unjustified and unjustifiable killings of 1972 is disrespectful.

“We call on the UK Government to ensure there are no barriers to justice and make clear there will be no de facto amnesty for human rights abuses, including those committed by security forces.”

A Government spokesman said the safeguards referred to are “for how we deal with wider legacy issues, not specific legal cases, which it would be inappropriate to comment on”.

Press Association

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