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Soldier To Face Murder Charges Over Bloody Sunday Killings

A former British soldier faces murder charges over the killing of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

The Public Prosecution Service said there was enough evidence to prosecute Soldier F for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney. He also faces charges for the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn.

Thirteen people were shot dead at a civil rights march on 30 January 1972. The day became known as Bloody Sunday – one of the darkest days of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The shootings led to widespread anger in Derry and further afield.

On the same day as the funerals were held for 11 of the Bloody Sunday victims, the British Embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground by an angry crowd.

The former paratrooper is being referred to only as Soldier F because all military witnesses were granted anonymity through the Saville Inquiry into the circumstances around the killings. The PPS said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute 16 other soldiers and two Official IRA men.

James Wray’s brother Liam said he was “very saddened for the other families” of those killed on Bloody Sunday. “Their hearts must be broken,” he said. “It has been a sad day but the Wray family are relieved.” He added: “There are a lot of sad and heartbroken people today.”

William McKinney’s brother Michael said it was “disappointing” for families who had not received news of prosecutions. “We are mindful of those families who received that news today, and believe me, there are many,” he said. “For us here today it is important to point out that justice for one family is justice for all of us.”

Director of the PPS Stephen Herron said: “It has been a long road for the families… and today will be another extremely difficult day for many of them. “We wanted to meet them personally to explain the decisions taken and to help them understand the reasons.”

Mr Herron said the decisions to prosecute announced on Thursday “relate only to allegations of criminal conduct on Bloody Sunday itself”. “Consideration will now be given to allegations of perjury in respect of those suspects reported by police,” he said.

Bloody Sunday might have happened 47 years ago, but it has cast a very long shadow, extending far beyond victims’ families and those involved. It fuelled the Troubles and, two decades after they ended, it will once again throw a searchlight on how Northern Ireland deals with it past.

Legacy issues, as they are termed, can poison the present day and they have been allowed to fester. Bloody Sunday has fed into the ongoing debate, with the government considering legislation as part of its next steps. Will that involve a de facto amnesty from prosecutions in future, and whom might that cover?

This is the bigger picture against the backdrop of the Bloody Sunday decisions, significant as they are in their own right.

The intention to charge a former soldier has clawed at emotions not just in Derry, but among bereaved families and victims in thousands of other Troubles cases left pondering truth and justice. The case could come before a court for a preliminary hearing quite quickly, says the BBC’s legal expert, Joshusa Rozenberg. He expects Soldier F to be brought before a court in Northern Ireland and to be named.

Solider F would be expected to argue that he has been treated unfairly given that other soldiers have not been prosecuted and will probably argue “abuse of process”, adds Mr Rozenberg.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government would offer full legal support to Soldier F – including paying his legal costs and providing welfare support. “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland,” he said. “The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance.”

A public inquiry conducted by a senior judge shortly after the deaths was branded a whitewash by victims’ families. A fresh inquiry was eventually ordered by then prime minister Tony Blair in 1998.

Lord Saville’s 5,000-page report stated none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury and that soldiers had lost their self-control.

The prime minister at the time of the report’s publication, David Cameron, apologised for the soldiers’ conduct. A police investigation into Bloody Sunday followed Lord Saville’s 12-year, £200m public inquiry. A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in November 2016.

In total, police reported 20 suspects to the PPS – 18 of them former soldiers, one of whom died last year.

Papers before prosecutors included 668 witness statements and numerous photos, video and audio evidence.