Bloody Sunday families continue justice fight after PPS decides to discontinue proceedings against Soldier F

The Bloody Sunday families will continue to fight for justice after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced it was discontinuing proceedings against Soldier F on Friday.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 3:31 pm

The British paratrooper was charged with the murders of William McKinney and James Wray, and the attempted murders of Joe Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell during an anti-internment march in Derry on January 30, 1972, when 14 people were killed - one victim died of their injuries on a later date - by the British Army.

Today the PPS said it would not be proceeding with prosecution. The decision was taken after a court ruled in April that evidence relied upon in the prosecution of two former soldiers for the killing of Official IRA member Joe McCann in Belfast in 1972, was inadmissible because of the circumstances in which it was obtained.

A PPS review was conducted in the wake of this decision and it has now concluded that there was no longer a reasonable prospect of key evidence in proceedings against Soldier F being ruled admissible at his trial.

Solicitor Ciaran Shiels with Bloody Sunday relatives  outside the City Hotel on Friday morning after the PPS announcement that Soldier F will not stand trial. Photo: George Sweeney / Derry Journal.  DER2126GS – 161
Solicitor Ciaran Shiels with Bloody Sunday relatives outside the City Hotel on Friday morning after the PPS announcement that Soldier F will not stand trial. Photo: George Sweeney / Derry Journal. DER2126GS – 161

Mickey McKinney, whose brother William, was shot dead in Glenfada Park on Bloody Sunday, read out a statement on behalf of the families outside the City Hotel after meeting with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Herron.

"The decision communicated today to the victims of Bloody Sunday represents another damning indictment of the British justice system."

Mr. McKinney said the murders of William McKinney and Jim Wray on Bloody Sunday - for which the families were told Soldier F will now not be prosecuted - "resulted in two women being robbed of their husbands, 12 children being orphaned of their father, and dozens of young men and women deprived of a brother. Six parents also lost a son".

"Our family, with the support of the other families and wounded shall challenge this decision as far as we can," he said, adding: "This issue is far from concluded. We will fight on."

Mickey McKinney, whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.

Liam Wray's brother Jim was also shot dead in Glenfada Park.

He said: "The reaction wasn't of surprise, it was with some disappointment. It just proves that for innocent people, innocent civilians and their families to get justice, even after 49 years, it was always going to be a difficult thing to achieve, particularly when we had what we saw in 1972 when all the forces of the state lined up together to collude so that we arrived 49 years later, because of that collusion in 1972 that the present PPS cannot pursue justice and justice has been subverted."

John Kelly, whose brother Michael, was killed on Bloody Sunday, said: "All I can say is the same as the rest of the families it is a day of devastation.

"The fact that justice has been denied to the people of Derry and the families. Highly disappointed but the one fact is we are never going to give up.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday.

"We are not finished. We are continuing on.

"It's hard to take that 'F' is going to walk away from this for the time being but as I said earlier we are not going to give up. It's as simple as that.

"All I can say is that it is a disappointing day. It's another hurdle. Over the years we've had many hurdles that we have had to get over but we'll get over this one as well and we'll find a way, some way or other to get justice for our people, for our loved ones. Justice doesn't end here. The fight for justice continues on."

Ciaran Shiels, solicitor, of Madden & Finucane, said he has informed the PPS of their intention to seek an immediate judicial review of this decision to discontinue the prosecution of Soldier F.

"The reasons underpinning the PPS decision relate to the admissibility of statements made to the Royal Military Police in 1972 by a number of soldiers who were witnesses to the events in Glenfada Park North where the majority of the murders took place.

"The admissibility of RMP statements in relation to the events of Bloody Sunday is a matter already under active judicial consideration by the High Court following proceedings which we lodged last December in respect of the other victims whose shootings were not prosecuted in relation to this matter."

He claimed: "The High Court will hear detailed legal argument over five days this September. In these circumstances the decision by the PPS to halt this prosecution is clearly premature in the absence of a High Court ruling on this issue and we have asked them to desist in the circumstances from withdrawing the proceedings until clear judicial direction is given by the High Court in Belfast."

The PPS also informed the family of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty who was killed after being shot twice in the head by a soldier in July 1972 in Creggan during Operation Motorman that it was discontinuing the prosecution of Soldier B for the same reason - the Test for Prosecution had not been met because of the inadmissibility of evidence.

Mr Herron said: “I recognise these decisions bring further pain to victims and bereaved families who have relentlessly sought justice for almost 50 years and have faced many set-backs. It is clear to see how these devastating events in 1972, in which the families involved lost an innocent loved one, caused an enduring pain which continues to weigh heavily."

He added: “The Test for Prosecution involves a judgment as to how a prosecution will fare in the context of the adversarial trial process, and of the likely outcome. It was always recognised there were significant evidential challenges in both these cases.

"However, the ruling in the case of Soldiers A and C provided insight as to the way courts will view attempts to use compelled statements from 1972, or evidence in some way derived from them, in a criminal trial.

“We carefully considered how the ruling affected the analyses we previously undertook in the cases of Soldier B and Soldier F as to the prospects of conviction.

“Whilst the circumstances of the two cases were different, and they were considered individually, in both it was concluded that there was no longer any reasonable prospect of conviction, and accordingly the Test for Prosecution was no longer met.”

Mr. Shiels said he was optimistic about the prospect of a favourable Judicial Review outcome.

"Leave was granted on the papers. We didn't even have to go to court to seek an initial hearing to establish whether or not there is an arguable case when we submitted our application for Judicial Review along with very, very detailed submissions. We've been working on this for a long, long time.

"We have a good case. Nine times out of ten, maybe even more than that, one has to go through a hearing just to establish whether or not we have leave to apply for a judicial review, whether we can establish the requisites for a proper permission in order to advance to full hearing.

"Leave was granted on the papers in this case. We will go straight to a full hearing in September."