Relatives of some of those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday have said they are ‘not surprised’ by a High Court ruling made in London that members of the Parachute Regiment present in Derry on January 30, 1972 will not be detained and taken to Northern Ireland in for questioning over the killings almost 44 years ago.
Former paratroopers who face questioning over Bloody Sunday this morning won their High Court case which had been lodged last month.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas described the case at a recent hearing as “a matter of great public interest”.
The ex-soldiers, who cannot be named, applied for a judicial review against the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), who wants them taken back to Northern Ireland for an investigation into whether criminal offences may have been committed by soldiers who used lethal force on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
The High Court in London granted the seven men an order prohibiting the PSNI from arresting them on their undertaking “that they will attend for an interview under caution... to be carried out by the PSNI at a police station in England and Wales, or other acceptable location”.
At the centre of the case is the way the PSNI is conducting its probe into the deaths of 14 civil rights demonstrators in Derry.
Lawyers for the ex-soldiers, who live in England and gave evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry (BSI) from the British mainland, argued there was a real danger that their lives would unnecessarily be put at risk.
Arresting and transporting them “for what can only be described as administrative convenience” would be “unlawful, irrational and disproportionate”, said James Lewis QC at a one-day hearing in November.
He said all the men were willing to be questioned on the mainland but intended to make “no comment”.
Lord Thomas, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mrs Justice Carr announced on Thursday that they had “unhesitatingly concluded” that the reasons advanced for the arrest and transfer of the men - referred to as B, N, O, Q, R, U and V - “did not provide reasonable grounds” for the decision.
The judges said each of the men had co-operated with all previous proceedings and investigations at the time and in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, including Lord Widgery’s inquiry in 1971 and the later Saville inquiry.
Documentation necessary for the new investigations was held in electronic format and could be put to the men at interview in England and Wales.
The PSNI practice of putting to witnesses original relevant documents was “outmoded and cannot form any justification for an arrest”.
The judges said: “The present position of the claimants is that each will exercise their right to silence in the interviews.
“It is, in our view, almost impossible to foresee that any will depart from that position.
“The interviews are therefore likely to be short and straightforward.”
Mickey McKinney whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday told the ‘Journal’: “I am not surprised at this to be honest. This is simply a continuation of what went on at the Saville Inquiry.
“I wouldn’t be surprised either if we eventually get them into court but I suspect what will happen is that we will see them via video link.
“They will say the same thing in England as they would say here anyway. The time factor is this case is an extremely important one.
“One point I’d like to make is about the ‘threat to their security’. If the Queen of Prince Charles can come to Northern Ireland and receive protection from the PSNI, then why can’t they?
Kate Nash whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose father Alex was seriously wounded in an attempt to come to his son’s aid also told the ‘Journal’ she wasn’t surprised by today’s ruling.
“My thinking on this is that I am not surprised at all. It is the same as the Saville Inquiry and it is happening for the same reasons that were given back then.
“Look, we expect them to continuously to move the goalposts. The next move we expect will be an insistence on anonymity, then it will be that they will have to be tried in England and then it will proceed to attempting to stop in on national security grounds.
“What they need to know however is that we will continue to fight this and seek justice. We are not prepared to give up on this, it is too important,” she said.
The basis for the former Paratrooper’s lodging their objections at the High Court began in early November after the arrest of the soldier known as ‘Lance Corporal J’. The now 66-year-old man was arrested in Antrim and questioned at a police station in Belfast before being released on police bail pending further inquiries.
‘Lance Corporal J’ was 23-years-old at the time of Bloody Sunday and it is understood he was questioned in relation to the killing of William Nash, John Young and Michael McDaid and also in relation to the wounding Alex Nash.
The PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton gave an undertaking that no further arrests would take place until after today’s legal hearing concluded.
Both Mickey McKinney and Kate Nash told the ‘Journal’ that the onus was now on the PSNI to initiate the arrest procedures again straight away.
“What needs to happen now is that we need to get on with it and get these guys interviewed and get files sent to the Public Prosecution Service. Let’s get this moving,” said Mr McKinney.
Kate Nash told the ‘Journal’: “I will be emailing the police today and asking them when they will begin the process of arresting these soldiers again.”