MoD disputes ‘Sunday’ compensation award because victim died instantly

Claims that extra compensation was wrongly awarded to the last man killed by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday because he died instantly have been heard in the Court of Appeal.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:51 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 6:11 am
Thirteen people died in Derry’s Bogside on January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on unarmed marchers. More than a dozen others were injured. Photo: William L. Rukeyser.

The British Ministry of Defence is challenging a ruling that relatives of Bernard “Barney” McGuigan should receive an additional £15,000 in aggravated damages for injury to his feelings.

But counsel for his family claimed the pay-out was justified by the terror he experienced during the shootings in Derry in January 1972.

Brian Fee QC argued that the father-of-six knew he was exposing himself to danger when he ventured out from shelter to go to the aid of another victim.

Bernard McGuigan.

“How else would he feel, other than to be absolutely terrified?” he asked.

Thirteen unarmed people were killed when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire during a civil rights demonstration in the city. Another of those wounded on the day died later.

In 2010, the Saville Inquiry into the shootings established the innocence of all of the victims. Those findings led to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister at the time, issuing a public apology. He described the killings as “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

Liability has been accepted in legal actions taken against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by those bereaved or injured. Court proceedings have centred on the level of damages in each case, with more than £3m in total paid out to date.

Mr McGuigan, a painter and decorator, was shot in the Rossville Flats area as he went to the aid of 31-year-old Patrick Doherty, another of those shot dead on the day.

The 41-year-old had been waving a handkerchief or towel when hit by a bullet to the head, killing him instantly.

A claim by his estate was settled for £258,000.

A High Court judge then awarded a further £15,000 in aggravated damages.

He found that the soldiers’ actions would have “filled the deceased with fear and dread, coupled with a strong sense of indignation and hurt at being the innocent victim of a blatant, unprovoked and unjust attack by members of the army”.

The MoD is appealing that additional award, claiming it was wrong in law because Mr McGuigan’s death was instantaneous.

David Ringland QC argued that the facts of the case did not fall within the necessary legal definition for aggravated damages.

However, Mr Fee countered that the extra £15,000 compensation was for “emotional harm”.

The barrister told the three appeal judges that Mr McGuigan had been sheltering behind a wall when he went out to try to offer help.

“He was on a mission, clearly being aware there was shooting going on and he was going to put himself in a position of danger,” he added.

“That’s why he was waving the piece of towel as he went out.”

Following submissions, Lord Justice McCloskey confirmed judgment in the appeal will be given at a later date.