Police in Northern Ireland yesterday announced the launching of a murder inquiry into the deaths of 13 people killed by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in 1972. The investigation may take up to four years.
The news caused dismay in many quarters, since most had assumed that the long-running legal saga would be laid to rest following the lengthy report into the incident conducted by Lord Saville. Police made it clear that they are less than enthusiastic about diverting resources into such a lengthy investigation. The Assistant Chief Constable, Drew Harris, said police needed to strike a balance between protecting life in the present day and the need to investigate historic crimes.
Thirteen people were shot dead when soldiers opened fire on marchers during a civil rights march in Londonderry on 30 January 1972. Two years ago soldiers were heavily criticised in the Saville report, which concluded that none of the casualties posed a threat or was involved in anything to justify being shot. Accepting the report, David Cameron said the action of troops had been "unjustified and unjustifiable." The tribunal, which took 12 years to report, collected 2,500 written statements and heard evidence from almost a thousand witnesses, including many of the soldiers who opened fire in Londonderry.
But the irony is that witnesses were granted immunity from prosecution on the grounds of self-incrimination, which means that any testimony by troops cannot be used against them in future legal proceedings.
Yesterday's announcement was welcomed by John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead. He said: "It certainly is good news but it is something we had been expecting anyway. Soldiers should have been arrested and prosecuted right away on what came out of the Saville report."
The decision to launch the investigation was taken by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service after two years of studying the Saville report along with police.
It is reported that a team of at least 30 police will be put on the case, though Mr Harris warned: "There is not the expertise free and available to undertake an investigation of this size and that is why we are faced with dilemmas around prioritisation."
Decisions on any eventual prosecutions will be subject to a test on whether there is enough evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. The authorities will also consider whether prosecutions would be in the public interest.
The Sinn Fein representative Gerry Kelly said he worried that police will not move forward quickly enough.