Arrested ex-soldier still being questioned over Bloody Sunday

Marchers on January 30th, 1972, the day that would become known as Bloody Sunday.
Marchers on January 30th, 1972, the day that would become known as Bloody Sunday.

A 66-year-old ex-member of the Parachute Regiment arrested yesterday in connection with four shooting on Bloody Sunday is still being questioned by the PSNI this morning.

The man was arrested in County Antrim and is understood to be being questioned at a Belfast police station. It is believed his being interviewed in relation to the killings of William Nash, Michael McDaid and John Young. It is also understood he is being questioned over the wounding of Alexander Nash on January 30, 1972 in Derry’s Bogside district.

Meanwhile,Unionists have reactd angrily to the news of the arrest.

The arrest sparked calls from both the DUP and UUP for any investigation to take into account the climate of violence in which soldiers were working at the time of the 1972 massacre.

While the arrest was welcomed by both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, as well as Kate Nash (the sister of 19-year-old fatal shooting victim William Nash), Gregory Campbell – DUP MP for East Derry – questioned what action is currently being taken in relation to paramilitary crimes committed in the run-up to Bloody Sunday.

In September he had said he would be interested to see if Martin McGuinness – who was found to have “probably” been in possession of a submachine gun that day by the Saville Inquiry – would be questioned by officers involved in the investigation.

One of the images to emerge from Bloody Sunday.

One of the images to emerge from Bloody Sunday.

Meanwhile, UUP MP for South Antrim Danny Kinahan, a former soldier, said some of his former colleagues were “concerned about where all this is leading”.

UKIP MLA David McNarry said in reaction to the arrest: “This is an absolute disgrace.

“We have terrorists walking the streets free, the IRA Army Council sit in government and now some people want to not just prosecute, but persecute former soldiers.”

Although the police said only that the 66-year-old had been arrested by officers probing Bloody Sunday, and refused to disclose details of where he had been arrested, it is understood that he is the former soldier who gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry under the name of ‘Lance Corporal J’.

Police did not state what the 66-year-old ex-soldier had been arrested on suspicion of.

Gregory Campbell said in a statement yesterday: “It remains to be seen whether the current investigations will focus solely on the actions of soldiers on that day or whether progress will be made on arresting others who were engaged in illegal terrorist activity at the same time.

“Two police officers were in a patrol car on part of the route of the march three days before Bloody Sunday and were murdered by the Provisional IRA. The police need to confirm if they are questioning anyone in relation to that double murder or the other murders that occurred around the same time.

“Are they following any lines of inquiry against individuals who were not police or Army personnel serving in Londonderry at that time?”

Danny Kinahan said his former military comrades were wondering whether the investigation into Bloody Sunday would mean “the context in which they operated is ignored?”

He added: “Former terrorists are running round with on the run letters and Royal pardons while former soldiers and policemen can be questioned based on the content of historical files, and investigations carried out without placing any weight on the context of the Troubles at the time, where terrorists were committing multiple murders on our streets and laying waste to our town centres.”

Kate Nash, whose brother was shot dead near a rubble barricade on Rossville Street, was yesterday quoted in the Derry Journal as saying: “I’m shaking like a leaf... I’m very shocked that this has happened and you can only hope that the right thing is done here and the justice system works effectively.”

The arrest was hailed by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, who said his party “will continue to support the Bloody Sunday families in the campaign for truth and justice”, while SDLP councillor Brian Tierney (a member of educational project The Bloody Sunday Trust) said: “The investigation into this atrocity committed against the people of Derry must now advance in earnest.”

Responding to the contents in the Commons on June 15, 2010 to the Saville Report – the massive 12-year inquiry into the massacre – David Cameron had declared: “I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army, who I believe to be the finest in the world.”

He went on to add: “But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear... What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.”

Yesterday the Westminster Government issued a statement via the Northern Ireland Office, in which it said: “We remain unstinting in our admiration and support for the men and women of the police and Armed Forces whose sacrifice ensured that terrorism would never succeed in Northern Ireland and that its future would only ever be determined by democracy and consent. The overwhelming majority carried out their duties with courage, professionalism and integrity.”

Yesterday’s arrest was made by the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch, which was announced late in 2014 as the replacement for the Historical Enquiries Unit. This is separate from the Historic Investigations Unit; a new squad proposed as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

And, former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Mandelson has warned, “there are perils in going back so far into history” regarding the arrest.

“Perils over the evidence that is available, people’s memories, people’s ability to produce their own evidence and facts so long ago to present to some sort of tribunal or commission or court of law or whatever it is,” the Labour peer said.

“I think there’s a broader point to which is that peace in Northern Ireland is quite fragile, community relations are fragile and we have to think very hard before we do anything that is going to make the fragile worse, which is going to fire up tensions between different parts of the community,” he said.

“I’m sure that a lot of thought has been put into this and I’m not going to second guess those who have made this decision, but I do hope that before further decisions of this kind are taken, people think long and hard about the perhaps unforeseen consequences of going so far back into the past.”