Belfast Telegraph

Sergeant O criticises ‘gutless’ Government over failure to draw line under past

The former soldier was one of 17 investigated by police over their actions in Londonderry on January 20 1972, when 13 civilians were shot dead.

Relatives of those who died on Bloody Sunday (Niall Carson/PA)
Relatives of those who died on Bloody Sunday (Niall Carson/PA)

A former soldier investigated over the shooting of 13 civilians in Londonderry has criticised the Government as “gutless”.

The 77-year-old known as Sergeant O said a statute of limitations should be introduced to prevent future historical investigations from taking place.

He said it should apply to events in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Northern Ireland.

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Soldiers take cover behind their sandbagged armoured cars while dispersing rioters with CS gas in Londonderry, where a civil rights march resulted in 13 men being shot dead (PA)

Sergeant O was one of 17 former members of the Parachute Regiment to have their actions following a civil rights march in Derry in 1972 examined.

Last month, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced it will prosecute one of the 17, a man known as Soldier F.

The decision to prosecute just one sparked disappointment among some of the families of those killed.

But it also prompted anger among a number of military veterans.

Thirteen civil rights demonstrators were shot dead on January 30 1972, a day which has become known as Bloody Sunday.

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Top row, left to right, Patrick Doherty, Bernard McGuigan, John ‘Jackie’ Duddy and Gerald Donaghey, bottom row, left to right, Gerard McKinney, Jim Wray, William McKinney and John Young, who were killed on Bloody Sunday (Bloody Sunday Trust/PA)

Soldier F will face charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

In an interview with Forces News, Sergeant O said it was a relief to be told he would not be put before a judge, and that his claims that he had not done anything wrong had finally been proved right.

He described serving in Northern Ireland in the 1970s as “utterly hell on wheels” with riots every night of the week, but he insisted that he has no regrets.

I’ve been often castigated for ‘it was a job well done’. It was well done. I’d do it again, the exact same way Sergeant O

“Part of the United Kingdom was in upheaval and it was our job to try to calm it down. We did it to the best of our ability,” he said.

“I’ve been often castigated for ‘it was a job well done’. It was well done. I’d do it again, the exact same way.”

Sergeant O revealed that at one stage he and his family were placed under police protection.

He maintains the IRA knows where he is.

“I would like to say no but I’m not that naive. They know a certain amount. The IRA, or the Irish contingent, whoever they are if they want to come for me, then they’ll come,” he said.

Sergeant O also said he backs the campaign for a statute of limitations to be introduced to prevent historical investigations taking place.

“The Government is entirely gutless,” he said.

“They should draw a line under it as they’ve done for the IRA terrorists. They’re fine, they’re waving their letters of comfort. They should do the same for the British Army. Not only for Ireland but for Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Wipe the slate clean and say get on with your life.”

Meanwhile, large numbers of bikers are expected to roar into London next week to protest against the prosecution of Soldier F.

Rolling Thunder ride organiser Harry Wragg said: “Our ride is not directed at the victims, it is directed at the British Government.

“Our argument is with the Government, not the victims of Bloody Sunday or any other event.”

He added: “Where are they pulling the evidence from, why are the British Government allowing this to happen?”

Participants in the demonstration on April 12 are due to travel from across the UK, including the Lake District, Wales and the home counties.

They had planned to travel to Westminster but that date coincides with the new no-deal Brexit date.

It is uncertain whether they will be allowed to proceed to Parliament, the organiser said.

Bloody Sunday helped galvanise support for the Provisional IRA early in the Troubles.

An image of a Catholic priest waving a bloodstained handkerchief as he tried to help a victim to safety went around the world.

A public inquiry conducted by a senior judge shortly after the deaths was branded a whitewash by victims’ families and a campaign was launched for a new public inquiry.

Relatives sought to right the wrongs of false claims that their loved ones had been armed.

A fresh probe was eventually ordered by then prime minister Tony Blair in 1998.

A decade-long investigation by Lord Saville concluded that the troops killed protesters who posed no threat.

PA

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