The collapse of the case against Soldier F, charged over Bloody Sunday, and Solider B, charged in connection with the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in 1972, while devastating for the families, was not a huge surprise given the direction the Government clearly wants to take with Troubles legacy.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decision came after the collapse of the case against two former paratroopers charged with the murder of Official IRA man Joe McCann earlier this year. It ruled that statements gathered at the time by the Royal Military Police were inadmissible.
That ruling was always going to have an impact on pending trials involving the State.
In the early 1970s the Army investigated itself in cases of killings by soldiers. The interviews were often carried out for administration and training purposes rather than as evidence for a potential criminal offence.
That has always made prosecuting these cases complicated, even when the soldiers themselves made admissions.
The Bloody Sunday families have truth, they have been vindicated but they have no justice and that sums up the failings of how legacy has been dealt with since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is hurtful and frustrating for the families of those who have lost loved ones and have been forced to mount lengthy and emotionally draining justice campaigns to receive answers and on occasions clear their loved ones’ names.
While the independence of the judiciary and the PPS is not being called into question, these developments cannot be viewed in isolation, and we are now left looking at the bigger picture.
What now for legacy in Northern Ireland?
Earlier this year Downing Street briefed a number of English journalists on their plans for dealing with Northern Ireland’s past.
It included a commitment to end Troubles prosecutions and a vague promise of some kind of truth recovery process.
Boris Johnson had made a commitment to the veterans’ lobby to end investigations into soldiers who served here, even before he became Prime Minister. An attempt to include Northern Ireland in the controversial Overseas Operations Bill, which places a five-year statute of limitations on investigations, failed as it was legally impossible.
A standalone amnesty for soldiers or former police officers is also legally impossible and so the Government have unilaterally, without any consultation, made a commitment to end all prosecutions.
Details of this and what legal gymnastics need to be performed to make that happen have yet to be made public.
The Government also briefed at the time that officials were looking at ways to find a legal remedy for pending cases already progressing through the courts.
Last March, as the world was coming to grips with the enormity of the Covid pandemic, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced the Government was moving away from the Stormont House Agreement to a new legacy mechanism with “information recovery and reconciliation as the overarching goal”.
This angered victims and lobby groups, but given the news agenda at the time did not receive the scrutiny it deserved.
The families have said they will fight on.
There are already plans to challenge the legality of the Soldier F case and I would expect further challenges to the unilateral move to deny judicial justice to over 3,000 grieving families.
None of that is going to stop the Government implementing this policy, regardless of the absence of support it has from the people of Northern Ireland.
I have never believed that there was any real will to properly investigate unsolved Troubles killings. If there was, cold case detectives would have worked from 1998 back, looking at killings where there was a real possibility of conviction, due to the younger age of witnesses and alleged perpetrators.
Instead, they started at 1969 and worked forward, looking at cases that had little chance of success.
The Stormont House Agreement on legacy has been torn up by Downing Street.
The only real chance of healing our society is if a solution is found locally and the process overseen by those who actually care about our future. And that is so important, because the toxicity of our past is poisoning our future and interventions from an agenda-driven Westminster will only exasperate that.