Forty-seven years after Bloody Sunday, one of the most tragic episodes of the repression of the nationalist uprising in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the prosecutor’s office in the province announced on Thursday, that only one of seventeen soldiers implicated in the shooting of 13 protesters would be prosecuted for the killing of two people and the attempted murder of two others.
According to prosecutor Stephen Herron, there was only “sufficient evidence” to make the accusation against a former paratrooper who has only been named as “soldier F” in the file. This limited decision was greeted with disappointment by the families of the victims who have been fighting for nearly half a century for the perpetrators to be prosecuted and tried.
Before the announcement of the decision on Thursday morning, relatives of the victims marched in the rain holding black and white portraits bearing the names of those killed and a single word: “Justice”.
“Our disappointment is terrible, ” said John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead by “Soldier F”. “Our journey has been long since our brothers were brutally murdered in our streets. The total cost of the Bloody Sunday is not just measured by the number of deaths. These killings aggravated and prolonged the conflict.” Over time, all the parents of the dead have died but we are here to take their place,” he added in tears. At the time, the photo of a Catholic priest waving a blood-stained handkerchief while helping a victim on January 30, 1972, traveled around the world.
The tragedy occurred during a civil rights demonstration against a new law that allowed indefinite incarceration without trial. The clashes between protesters and British soldiers sent by London two years earlier to restore order had begun when they were ordered to make multiple arrests in the nationalist district of Bogside against young people throwing stones. A total of 21 soldiers used their firearms, killing 13 people – six of whom were 17 years old – and wounding fifteen.
Shortly after the incident, a local court absolved the soldiers. But in 1998, the new Labor prime minister, Tony Blair, established a commission chaired by Lord Saville to reopen the investigation. Released in 2010, his report states that none of the victims were armed, that no soldiers were threatened, that no summons was issued, and that the soldiers started by opening fire. This led Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to formally apologise on behalf of the British state, calling them events “unjustified and unjustifiable”.