Bloody Sunday families deserve justice – one prosecution is an insult

It is clear that other soldiers – along with their commanding officers – were responsible for the devastation caused on the streets that day. That they will escape prosecution is painfully unjust

Ben Kelly
Thursday 14 March 2019 12:41
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Families of those killed on Bloody Sunday gather in Londonderry as 17 soldiers involved on the day find out if they are to be prosecuted

It’s been almost 50 years since British paratroopers opened fire on peaceful civil rights protesters marching on the streets of Derry, shooting 13 people dead. Finally, it has been decided that one soldier will face prosecution for his actions that day. To say this is too little too late is a gross understatement.

The PPS has said that there is only sufficient evidence to prosecute Soldier F with two of the killings. This falls far below what people have fought for. It is apparent that other soldiers – along with their commanding officers – were responsible for the devastation caused on the streets that day. That they will escape prosecution is an insult to the families.

For almost 50 years, the trauma of Bloody Sunday has hung over my home city of Derry like an oppressive dark cloud. The families of the victims were forced to bear a double injustice. After their loved ones were gunned down on their own streets, the Widgery Tribunal then delivered a whitewash, which let soldiers off the hook, and left a smudged accusation of blame for those who had dared to engage in a peaceful protest.

For decades, families like mine took to the streets on the last Sunday of every January, along the route of the original march; in memory, in solidarity, and in a quest for justice. In my memory it was often cold, rainy, and despite the thousands present, eerily quiet.

The crowd was always led by the victims’ families, bravely holding up black and white images of their dead. Throughout these years, their stoicism and unrelenting desire for the truth was truly admirable. In a display of support, the people of Derry were always walking behind them.

In 2010, when the Saville Inquiry was published, a very different scene was performed in Derry. Gathered in the Guildhall Square, the people of Derry waited under a sunny, pure blue sky to hear the findings. The families were kept inside the town hall until the prime minister had spoken, but minutes before the announcement, a single thumbs up came through an open window.

The crowd erupted in applause, and where once flowed tears of pain, instead people wept with relief. The emotion in the air was palpable. On a huge screen, they watched David Cameron say that the behaviour of the paratroopers on Bloody Sunday had been “unjustified and unjustifiable”, and that all those killed had been innocent.

This was a moment of vindication for the victims, and a moment of transformation for the city. The sun was out, and now the truth was too. But this was never going to be the end of the journey. Families could not draw a line under the cold-blooded murder of their close family members, all of whom were entirely innocent.

Today will see many people who rarely give Northern Ireland a second thought trudge into the exhausting quagmire of whataboutery. Put simply, just because some crimes have not, or can not be solved, it does not mean we should not prosecute those responsible for Bloody Sunday when we are faced with indisputable evidence. I imagine those who rush to the army’s defence should want to see their honoured, decorated soldiers held to a high standard.

Those who really care about justice and reconciliation in Northern Ireland should tune in not just for today, but in the months and years ahead, and should help to establish institutions that can deal with our troubled past in a mature and respectful way; where all families can achieve some sort of closure. Without this, we will never truly begin to heal the scars of history.

Today’s decision feels like an insult to the suffering inflicted on the people of my city, but ultimately it is for the Bloody Sunday families to respond. No matter what they decide, or where this journey goes next, the people of Derry will continue to walk behind them.

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