UK to cover Bloody Sunday soldiers legal costs for any prosecutions
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.
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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".
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.
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."
Belfast Telegraph Digital