Families vow to fight on following ‘another damning indictment of British justice system’
The future of legacy investigations in Northern Ireland is in doubt after the collapse of two pending prosecutions against former soldiers.
The families of those killed on Bloody Sunday have expressed disappointment at the collapse of the trial of Soldier F, saying they will challenge the decision in the High Court.
Proceedings against Soldier B who was to be prosecuted with the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in July 1972, and of wounding with intent of his cousin Christopher Hegarty, have also now been withdrawn.
Soldier F was accused of murdering James Wray and William McKinney on January 30, 1972, when British troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside area of Derry, killing 13 people.
The ex-paratrooper was also accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O'Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. He faced a seventh supporting charge of the attempted murder of a person or persons unknown on the day.
Mickey McKinney, brother of William McKinney said: “This issue is far from over, we will fight on.” Mr McKinney also said the decision “represents another damning indictment of the British justice system”.
The Hegarty family solicitor, Des Doherty, said: "I want to make this clear, under instruction from the family, and under much protest — and we made that clear, that it was under protest — we accepted letters from the PPS advising that they no longer would be proceeding with the prosecution of Soldier B for murder."
There had been concerns that the cases were in jeopardy following the collapse of the trial of two former soldiers accused of the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann earlier this year. The 24-year-old was shot in disputed circumstances at Joy Street in the Markets area of Belfast in April 1972. Soldiers A and C, both in their 70s, walked free in May of this year when a judge ruled that statements taken by the Historic Enquiries Team were inadmissible.
Ciaran Shiels of Madden and Finucane who represents the Bloody Sunday families said they intend to challenge the decision. “The reasons underpinning the PPS decision relate to the admissibility of statements made to the Royal Military Police (RMP) in 1972 by a number of soldiers who were witnesses to events in Glenfada Park.
“The admissibility of RMP statements in relation to the events of Bloody Sunday is a matter already under active consideration by the High Court, which will hear detailed legal argument over five days in September. In those circumstances, the decision by the PPS to halt this prosecution is clearly premature in the absence of a High Court ruling on the issue.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron held a meeting in Derry with families of the deceased and victims directly affected by the two decisions.
Mr Herron said: “I recognise these decisions bring further pain to victims and bereaved families who have relentlessly sought justice for almost 50 years and have faced many set-backs. It is clear to see how these devastating events in 1972, in which the families involved lost an innocent loved one, caused an enduring pain which continues to weigh heavily.
“The PPS has a duty to keep prosecution decisions under review and to take into account any change in circumstances as a case proceeds.
“We know that deep upset extends not just to the families and survivors we met with, but also to many in the wider community. In both cases, I would like to emphasise that this outcome does not undermine previous findings that those killed and injured in these tragic incidents were entirely innocent."
UUP leader Doug Beattie said: “I think what we are seeing is just how difficult it is to get any form of prosecutions, especially those from a long time ago and that puts in doubt the Stormont House Agreement mechanisms, which we’ve always opposed for good reason. Full investigations, some stretching back 50 years, very few will bring prosecutions but do raise false hope.
“We need to ask are we prolonging something that is going to damage people, damage their health and never give them what they want? We don’t believe in an amnesty, but I just feel a little bit exasperated now that this is going to continue on without ever reaching any conclusion.”
Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said: “While the PPS has concluded there was no reasonable prospect of the evidence in the cases being ruled as admissible, that will in no way ease the emotions being felt by those families and the wider community. Of course their right to a judicial review of this decision remains available to them.”
Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan said that the current system “does not work”. Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said it was a “bad day for justice”.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said: “It seems highly unlikely that a case would have proceeded to such lengths against a terrorist suspect yet in the pursuit of veterans no efforts were spared. It would be important to hear from the PPS, whenever all legal challenges have concluded, exactly why they were happy to proceed with evidence which they should have known would be inadmissible and who bears responsibility for that decision."