Bloody Sunday soldiers face private prosecution

The Saville inquiry into the 1972 killings in Londonderry reports on Tuesday, but that will not be the end, say Jonathan Owen and David McKittrick
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Indy Politics

Soldiers who shot more than two dozen people on Bloody Sunday are very likely to face prosecutions brought by the injured and the families of the 14 killed, Lord Ramsbotham said last night.

The cross-bench peer served as military assistant to General Sir Michael Carver, Chief of the General Staff, at the time of Bloody Sunday. Speaking to the IoS last night, he said: "I suspect that probably the prosecutions we will see are more likely to be taken out by individuals against individuals – private prosecutions."

But he added that it would be difficult to bring charges against soldiers that had been "ordered to go into an operation", saying: "I mean, who are you going to charge and with what? ... It's very difficult, and 30 years ago, for heaven's sake! And when some of the people are already dead, it doesn't make it any easier."

His remarks highlight one of the most contentious aspects of the long-running Saville inquiry. The release of its report on Tuesday will be crucial in determining whether those involved acted illegally and, if so, the prospects of legal action.

What began as a civil rights march 38 years ago ended with blood on the streets and a radicalised generation that turned to terrorism. Thirteen marchers were shot dead on 30 January 1972. Fourteen others were wounded, one of whom later died of injuries.

An inquiry chaired by Lord Widgery in the immediate aftermath was condemned as a whitewash. It was 25 years before a full inquiry was announced by Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, in 1997. Taking 12 years, involving hundreds of witnesses and running up costs of almost £200m, the Saville inquiry has become the longest-running and most expensive inquiry in British history.

Publication of its report will mark a significant and highly charged moment in the history of Londonderry, dealing as it does with one of the most traumatic events of the Troubles.

The report itself is widely expected to criticise the paratroopers who fired the fatal shots and could spark a series of court cases. But much attention will focus on whether the troops on the streets or their senior officers will take the brunt of the blame.

Republican opinion seems divided on the issue of legal action. "I've heard people say in the city over the course of the last number of weeks that they would like to see prosecutions, and they would like to see convictions, but they are not really interested in seeing people go to prison," said the Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness. "There will be varying views about what should happen," he added.

Thousands are expected to gather in Guildhall Square in the centre of Londonderry to hear the Saville inquiry's conclusions. Security is to be tightened in the city, with police describing the possibility of a republican attack as "severe".

A number of dissident factions active in the area have escalated their actions this year. There have been 16 pipe bombs used in the past six months, compared to 15 in the whole of 2009. And there have been five separate security alerts in and around Londonderry in the past week alone.

While there is no question of any attack in the vicinity of the Guildhall itself, police fear that republican dissidents may attempt to stage a bombing elsewhere to mark the event.

The increased security is expected to be discreet, with authorities anxious to avoid getting involved with the crowds who are to march to the Guildhall along the same route marchers attempted to take in 1972.

Back then, innocent people were "ambushed" by soldiers shooting to kill, according to the first person to be shot on Bloody Sunday, Damien Donaghy. He was shot in the leg. "I was only 15 years of age. That's the day my childhood ended," he said last night. "It was a straight ambush, they were just wanting to kill people: that was it. On the day, they just fucking went crazy. It was well planned, there's no doubt about it," he added.

"The worst aspect of that day, and since, was the way that people's names were blackened by the soldiers: the lies that they told."

The soldiers involved must face justice, said Mr Donaghy: "They have to know that deep down they'll have to face justice for what they did. If we can, we'll prosecute the soldiers. I'm not saying we will, but we should have our day in court.... Everybody wants revenge but if we could get them in court for attempted murder, or murder, we'd be happy with that."

Now 53 and living in Londonderry with his wife and four children, he hasn't been able to work for the past five years because of his injury and faces an operation to rebuild his knee later this year. "It's been hard to live with because I'm not a person to talk a whole lot about it. I like to live for tomorrow, but the anger and frustration is still inside me and I want the truth."

Recalling the events of 38 years ago, he said: "It was a crisp day, a cold day, and there were bands, and everybody was happy. There were people singing away, it was like all the marches. But nobody ever thought what was going to happen would happen ...we got down, round about William Street, and there'd been two old bakeries there and there were soldiers hiding in them – paratroopers.

"They were firing rubber bullets and a rubber bullet bounced off the wall and I went to grab it. The next thing I knew, I was shot."

He was to spend eight months in hospital and it was another year until he was "anywhere near right".

Now he wants closure. "What I want is that the people who were all murdered and were shot like myself, that they didn't die for nothing – that we can get justice."

Legal niceties: A nice little earner for the inquiry's lawyers

While the final cost of the longest-running inquiry in British legal history will not be known until Tuesday, when figures will be released alongside its final report, two things are certain.

With costs at more than £190m, it is the most expensive ever undertaken in Britain.

And, while victims of Bloody Sunday have yet to be paid any meaningful compensation, lawyers have profited from the tragedy's legal aftermath – legal bills came to more than £100m.

Sir Christopher Clarke QC, lead counsel for the inquiry, has been paid at least £4.5m for his efforts. The barrister lives in a £2m London house with his wife. The couple also has a cottage in Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight.

Edwin Glasgow QC, lead counsel for the Ministry of Defence, has also been paid more than £4m. Two years into the inquiry, Mr Glasgow and his wife bought a Thames-side flat in central London for £645,000. The flat is now estimated to be worth about £1.3m. They also own a house in Thames Ditton, Surrey, and a chateau in Entrechaux, in the south of France.

And although Lord Saville has not been paid a salary over and above what he gets as a judge, two of the lesser-known judges on the tribunal, John Toohey and William Hoyt, have made more than £5.7m between them and were paid more than £200,000 each last year.

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