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Former paratrooper soldier F appears in court over Bloody Sunday charges

Soldier F, a former British paratrooper, appeared in court on 14 June 2024, marking his first in-person attendance since being charged in 2019 with murders and attempted murders committed on Bloody Sunday in 1972. The legal proceedings revealed his legal team’s challenge to dismiss the case due to “insufficiency of evidence.”

Relatives of those killed and their supporters were present as Soldier F, shielded from public view by a large curtain, faced accusations of murdering William McKinney and James Wray. These events unfolded when the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of thirteen people. Soldier F is also accused of attempting to murder Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon, Michael Quinn, and an unknown person on the same day.

The prosecution argued that Soldier F was among the soldiers who fired at civilians running away, with the intention to kill, not acting in self-defense. “Each soldier who fired in those circumstances must have intended to kill,” the prosecution lawyer stated. The judge is yet to decide on the trial’s future, while maintaining the veteran’s anonymity order.

The prosecution journey has been fraught with legal challenges and reversals. Initially, in March 2019, it was decided to prosecute Soldier F for the murders and attempted murders. However, the case was dropped in 2021 after the collapse of the trial of two other Army veterans accused of another Troubles-era killing. At the time, the families of the Bloody Sunday victims expressed their dismay, calling the decision a “damning indictment of the British justice system.” Their successful legal challenge led to the resumption of prosecution in September 2022, with Soldier F returned for trial in December 2023, though a trial date remains undetermined.

Dr. Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence commented on the significance of the case, stating, “Justice delayed is justice denied; the victims’ families have waited too long for accountability. The integrity of the justice system is at stake when such serious allegations remain unresolved for decades.”

Bloody Sunday, which occurred on 30 January 1972, remains one of the most contentious and painful episodes of the Northern Ireland Troubles. On that day, soldiers from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry, killing thirteen people and wounding several others. A fourteenth person later died from injuries sustained on that day.

The journey to this point has been long and arduous for the families of the victims. The initial Widgery Tribunal, conducted shortly after the events, largely exonerated the soldiers and was widely criticized as a whitewash. It wasn’t until the Saville Inquiry, which concluded in 2010, that the British government acknowledged the soldiers’ actions as “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology, stating, “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the path to prosecution has been complex. The decision to prosecute Soldier F in 2019 came after the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland reviewed 125,000 pages of material. This decision brought some hope to the families, yet the subsequent dropping of the case in 2021 dashed their hopes temporarily. The legal challenge that followed demonstrated the families’ determination to seek justice, ultimately leading to the resumption of the case.

As the current proceedings unfold, the eyes of many are on the court, not only in Northern Ireland but across the UK and beyond. The case against Soldier F is not just about the actions of one individual but is seen as a broader quest for truth and accountability regarding the events of Bloody Sunday. The outcome of this case may set significant precedents for how alleged crimes committed during the Troubles are addressed in the future.

In court, the tension was palpable as the arguments were presented. Soldier F’s lawyer argued vigorously for the dismissal of the case, citing a lack of sufficient evidence. Meanwhile, the prosecution maintained that the evidence showed Soldier F’s actions were part of a deliberate and unlawful attack on fleeing civilians.

The judge’s decision on whether the trial will proceed is keenly anticipated and will be a pivotal moment in the ongoing quest for justice for the Bloody Sunday victims and their families.