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No charges for British soldiers accused of giving false evidence on Bloody Sunday

The UK’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has announced that no charges will be brought against fifteen former soldiers investigated for perjury related to their testimonies about Bloody Sunday. This decision also extends to an alleged former member of the Official IRA, with both determinations rooted in what the PPS describes as “insufficient evidence.”

Bloody Sunday remains one of the most tragic and contentious events in Northern Ireland’s history. On January 30, 1972, thirteen unarmed civilians were killed and fifteen more were wounded when British soldiers opened fire during a civil rights march in Derry. The event has since become a symbol of the troubles in Northern Ireland, highlighting the intense sectarian divide and the brutal responses that often characterized the period.

The controversy surrounding the soldiers’ actions on that day was reignited with the publication of Lord Saville’s inquiry report in 2010. The report concluded that the victims were innocent and posed no threat to the soldiers, starkly contradicting the testimonies of the soldiers involved, which Lord Saville deemed knowingly false.

Despite these findings, John O’Neill, a senior public prosecutor, explained that the prosecution team faced significant hurdles, including the admissibility of accounts from 1972 and the standard of proof required to move forward criminally. He noted, “The Bloody Sunday Inquiry may have rejected the evidence of individuals, but it did not always express those findings in terms amounting to the criminal standard of proof.”

The PPS’s decision has been met with deep disappointment and frustration from the families of the victims and the broader community in Derry. John Kelly, whose brother Michael was among those killed, described the ruling as “an affront to the rule of law” and indicative of the continuing injustice that shadows the events of Bloody Sunday.

Solicitor Ciarán Shiels, representing some of the victims’ families, expressed the families’ disillusionment but hinted at the possibility of further legal action. “We are not fooled by it,” Shiels stated, underscoring a determination to continue seeking justice, despite the setbacks.

Gerry Duddy, another relative of a victim, called the decision “a slap in the teeth.” Echoing a sentiment shared by many others affected by the tragedy, Duddy affirmed the families’ ongoing commitment to pursuing justice, saying, “Until our last breath, that is what we will do.”

Political figures have also weighed in on the PPS’s announcement. Foyle MP Colum Eastwood described the decision as “another difficult moment” for the families and reassured them of continued support in their pursuit of justice. In contrast, Gregory Campbell of the Democratic Unionist Party suggested that the decision was expected, given the passage of time and the absence of new compelling evidence.

While legal avenues may be narrowing, the fight for justice and accountability over Bloody Sunday continues. The community and the families of the victims remain dedicated to uncovering the truth and ensuring that such tragedies are remembered and learned from, not repeated. The resolution of these longstanding grievances remains a crucial step toward healing and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

As Dr Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), says: “Some might applaud the decision not to prosecute soldiers accused of perjury over Bloody Sunday, but such an exemption from justice undermines the crucial pillars of accountability and transparency that should underpin all military engagements. Soldiers that see themselves as above the rule of law will, in the end, not respect the rule of law.”