Belfast Telegraph

UK to cover Bloody Sunday soldiers legal costs for any prosecutions

A mural paying tribute to the Bloody Sunday victims
A mural paying tribute to the Bloody Sunday victims

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that it will cover all legal costs incurred by soldiers in the event of any prosecutions relating to the Bloody Sunday killings.

The Public Prosecution Service is set to announce on Thursday whether any soldier will face prosecution for the deaths of 14 people in Londonderry in January 1972.

They died after members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on a civil rights protest in the city.

The Saville Inquiry concluded in 2010 that all those killed or injured were innocent, and Prime Minister David Cameron made a public apology in the House of Commons, saying the shootings were "unjustified and unjustifiable".

Following a police investigation it was decided that charges related to Bloody Sunday could be brought against 18 former soldiers. One of the accused died in 2018.

Ahead of the announcement, the MoD has written to veterans to assure them that their legal costs will be covered "without limit of time or cap on expenditure, until all aspects of the investigation and subsequent legal processes are complete".

The letter, from Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, said that while the MoD was "mindful of the need to safeguard taxpayers' interests," that "decisions on selection of independent legal representatives are not driven by considerations of cost, but of offering veterans the best possible representation".

"The Ministry of Defence is unwaveringly committed to finding ways to give appropriate legal protection to serving and former members of the Armed Forces in situations where they currently face repeated investigations and potential prosecution following events that happened many years ago," the letter states.

The MoD has also set up a dedicated team to look at legal protections for veterans.

Meanwhile, the Chair of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry Lord Saville has said that the inquiry was not a "question of prosecutions".

Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
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
Paddy Doherty, who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
A scene showing a British paratrooper near Glenfada Park in Derry where Bloody Sunday took place.
30th January 1972: An armed soldier and a protestor on Bloody Sunday when British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civilians on a civil rights march.
William McKinney, killed on Bloody Sunday.
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.
St Mary's Church, on the Creggan Estate, during the Requiem Mass for the 13 who died on 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry.
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.
Scenes from 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
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
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. 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. 29.1.12

The Saville Inquiry was set up to establish what exactly happened on Bloody Sunday. It started in April 1998 and ran for 12 years.

Lord Saville said he could not answer if the inquiry had increased the chances of soldiers being prosecuted.

"Some thought that those soldiers who were found responsible should be prosecuted but overall the campaign for Bloody Sunday originally was for an inquiry to find out what happened and why, rather than a question of prosecutions," he told the BBC.

Lord Saville led the inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972
Lord Saville led the inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972

Ex-soldiers who testified at the inquiry were granted anonymity and told their evidence would not be used in any criminal proceedings.

Lord Saville said without the guarantees soldiers could have refused to answer questions.

"So, we were there to find out what happened rather than investigating criminal offences. We sought assurance and gave it to those people, which is protected in law."

Lord Savile said that he had hoped the inquiry would help deal with the events of the Troubles but would not be drawn on what he thought about potential prosectuions.

"The question as to whether it draws a line under events or whether there should be prosecutions is not one for me, it's one for politicians and prosecuting authorities," he said.

"If people want more and feel that justice can only be served by prosecutions against those that they believe to be responsible, then that is a matter again on which I can't really comment."

"I think we did a pretty thorough job and I was satisfied we had done a fair job at finding out what happened that day as was realistically possible."

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