Relatives of those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday have expressed major concerns over the wider process of dealing with legacy issues in Northern Ireland.
Whilst it emerged earlier this week that eight former Parachute Regiment soldiers suspected of shootings on January 30, 1972 have now been questioned at police stations in the UK, three relatives and one of the wounded on Bloody Sunday have expressed concern that Bloody Sunday may, in future, be treated as a legacy case.
And, a Northern Ireland Policing Board report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that in reporting on legacy and wider policing issues, the PSNI Chief Constable can opt out from disclosing information to the body set up to scrutinise it. The Policing Board report dates from October, 2015 and in a section specifically relating to the body’s Performance Committee it reveals that this committee met with the Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police in order to undertake a Quality Assurance of the procedures and practices the PSNI have in place to support the Coroner in undertaking legacy inquests.
The report also highlights that at a meeting in September, 2015 Policing Board members discussed correspondence sent by Justice Minister David Ford and the PSNI Chief Constable relating to a proposed inspection of legacy procedures by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. However, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister rejected the inspection on the grounds that adequate financial resources were not available for it. Therefore the Policing Board asked that a paper be drafted in which it could be laid down how the Chief Constable could report on progress in legacy cases. Under Section 59 of the Policing Act (Northern Ireland) 2000 the Chief Constable has a duty to report to the Board. However, there are four listed ways in which the disclosure of information by the Chief Constable can be withheld. These are in cases of national security, if the information is sensitive personnel information, if the information would be likely to prejudice proceedings ongoing in a court of law and if the information is likely to put individual lives in danger.
Relatives of those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday have already expressed concerns that there will be an attempt to move the current live murder investigation into the realms of the proposed Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) which would therefore treat the events of January 30, 1972 as a legacy case.
Detective Chief Inspector Drew Harris, the senior policeman who is heading up the murder investigation into Bloody Sunday, said last year that he wanted to relinquish PSNI ownership of thousands of ‘Troubles’ related files and hand them to the HIU which was proposed as part of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).
Whilst the portion of the SHA on establishing mechanisms on dealing with past was not finalised when the agreement came into being at Christmas 2015, it is likely to be returned to with vigour by the British Government and Northern Ireland’s political parties in a post-election scenario following the establishment of a new Stormont Executive in the next two to three months.
Drew Harris has said that the police no longer wish to be accused of being “gatekeepers” or having “ulterior motives” in relation to handling ‘Troubles’ documentation. But, in the current absence of agreed mechanisms on dealing with the legacy of the conflict, exactly who would assume control of the material remains a very contentious issue.
For Kate and Linda Nash, whose brother William was shot dead and whose father was wounded on Bloody Sunday, for Michael McKinney whose brother William was also shot dead and for Michael Bridge who was wounded on January 30, 1972, the overriding concern is that there will be an attempt to shift the current investigation into the killings into an historical context. In effect, they fear that this possibility would negate any hope of seeing the ex-Parachute Regiment soldiers being prosecuted for their suspected crimes.
In a statement to the ‘Journal’ earlier this week confirming that eight ex-Paras have now been questioned in England on their actions in Derry 44 years ago, Drew Harris said: “Officers investigating the events of Bloody Sunday interviewed a number of former military personnel in March and further interviews with other ex-soldiers are being arranged for the coming months.
In the opinion of Michael McKinney there has been a number of attempts to frustrate the prosecutions of those responsibleIn my opinion, the PSNI want rid of the Bloody Sunday investigation-Mickey Bridge
“We will continue to carry out our investigations in accordance with our statutory obligations as directed by the High Court.”
Towards the end of 2015 the eight soldiers won a High Court ruling preventing them from being brought to Northern Ireland for questioning on the grounds that their lives were still in danger from dissident republicans. As yet the victims’ relatives have not been informed the nature of the questioning of the eight former soldiers or indeed which of the soldiers have been questioned.
William McKinney was 26-years-old when he was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.
His family, including his brother Michael fought for 25 years until he and the others killed that day were finally publicly declared innocent with the publication of The Saville Inquiry - not that for them, the innocence of the victims was ever in doubt.
The expunging of the Widgery Tribunal and the declarations of innocence whilst welcome, did not however exclude the possibility of prosecutions of the soldiers responsible for the killings in the aftermath of Saville. The PSNI launched a murder investigation into the killings in 2012, but it was not until just last month that eight suspects have been questioned in England.
In the opinion of Michael McKinney there has been a number of attempts to frustrate the prosecutions of those responsible.
“We have been told that soldiers are now being questioned over their actions on Bloody Sunday. I really hope that our search for justice is not taken away by the powers that the Chief Constable has if the investigation becomes part of the HIU. That would be a bitter pill to swallow.
“I would have the view that what is in place here is a means for the state to protect its employees who have done wrong. Where is the impartiality of justice when information does not have to be disclosed because of national security.”
A recent letter from the PSNI informing Bloody Sunday relatives that eight soldiers have been interviewed, seen by the ‘Journal’ states: “As further interviews with other soldiers are to take place, it would not be appropriate at this time to detail the identity of those interviewed in March or comment on the content of these interviews.
“I appreciate that the families will wish to know these details and at a future date I would hope to be in a position to provide additional information which would have an impact on the inquiry as a whole.”
Kate and Linda Nash’s brother William was 19 when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. Their father Alex was 52-years-old and was severely wounded in attempt to aid his son.
In a letter sent by the PSNI informing them of the latest progress in the police investigation it was stipulated that there has been no reduction in resources given to carry out the investigation.
However, both sisters remain unconvinced by the entire process.
Kate Nash told the ‘Journal’: “From the latest updates we have received I feel that we are basically being told not to ask any questions. We cannot ask which soldiers were interviewed. Now, I understand that names cannot be given, but they could be identified by the names given to them as the Saville Inquiry-’Soldier J’ for example. And, we were told after the High Court judgement when they were granted permission not to be taken here for interviews, that they would give answers to questions on the basis of ‘no comment.’
“If this is the case then why haven’t any of these soldiers been arrested and released pending further inquiries? After all they are murder suspects. On another point I have recently been offered the opportunity to meet with Northern Ireland Office officials to discuss legacy issues.
“They only want to meet me and one other person. To me that is an attempt to marginalise us. The HIU does not appear to be compliant with European Human Rights legislation, so why is it even being considered when it will not deliver anything satisfactory for any victims. There is no-one applying the law as it is laid down in this country. It seems the British Givernment can do anything they like-bend the rules any which way to suit themselves. If they decide you are not going to have justice, then you will not have justice.”
Linda Nash remains equally sceptical about the process, stating: “If there was anybody on the streets of Derry - eight suspects for example in a particular case; they would go into that area and arrest them all at the same time. They would be taken in, and believe me, questioned under caution, before being released.
“These are people suspected of murder and they are being let out again. And people ask why I cannot trust any police force?
“I have never trusted this investigation from the beginning.
“There are three things that I have never deviated from during the entire inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Firstly - the overturning of the Widgery Tribunal; secondly-the declarations of innocence for those killed and those wounded and thirdly, the prosecutions of the soldiers who carried out the killings.
“To this day I remain on the same path and I will not move from seeing those soldiers in the dock.”
Kate Nash also said she believes there is a degree of political pragmatism at play with regard to the current situation within the police investigation.
“It is very interesting that nothing seems to be happening in terms of agreeing a way forward on the past before the election on May 5.
“Is it the case that any movement from the parties now might cost them votes? So they are not going to do anything now that will cause them to lose popularity.
“It is the case that even the further questioning of soldiers will continue on into May and perhaps beyond that.
“So, the choreography of it all seems to be interesting too,” she told the ‘Journal’.
Michael Bridge was 25-years-old when he was shot and wounded on Bloody Sunday.
He is in little doubt that there are moves in motion to turn the investigation into a historical legacy case.
The basis for his thoughts are that if soldiers are charged they will lose their right to anonymity and leave themselves open to charges of perjury based on the fact they already gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry.
He said: “The reason we are concerned is that they are trying to halt an effective investigation and turn this over to the HIU, who are not accountable to anyone.
“It is illegal and demonstrates what they want to hide the truth especially about state killings and collusion killings and that they cannot be forced to reveal information about them.
“The investigation into Bloody Sunday is live.
“In my opinion, the PSNI want rid of the Bloody Sunday investigation.
“The state want to dilute it for their own aims.
“I believe the conclusions of this are already there and they only have to find the mechanisms to carry it through. Bloody Sunday is not a legacy case.
“These soldiers were found guilty by Saville but they want to put this through as a legacy case because they maintain they do not have the resources to investigate, because of the time scale, because of gathering eyewitness accounts again and a lack of forensics.
“All we need is the truth, but they will not concede on the truth, by what they define it as and they don’t have to give reasons for it.
“They are operating a two-tier system, but they have an obligation on them to address the conclusions of a judicial inquiry which had the same power as a court.
“It is not right for them to put procedures in place to do everything but tackle the people that the Inquiry concluded carried out the killings.
“As regards the questioning of the soldiers in England, I want to know about the position that the soldiers will not speak or give ‘no comment’ answers.
“I want to know whether they were questioned about the possibility of perjury charges. Simply, it was laid out by Saville that ‘if you lie to me, that immunity you were given will be taken away from you’. That is the law.
“If they have given ‘no comment’ answers then they should have been charged by now. When they are charged they lose anonymity and immunity and at that stage the PSNI can proceed.”