Prosecution of former soldiers in Troubles cases will not proceed

The prosecution of two former soldiers over three deaths during the Northern Ireland Troubles have been halted.

Soldier F was being prosecuted for the murder of two men, James Wray and William McKinney, shot during a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Soldier B was to be prosecuted for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in the city six months later.

The families of the victims were informed of the decisions during meetings on Derry on Friday morning.

Mickey McKinney, brother of William McKinney, expressed disappointment at the decision of the PPS not to pursue the prosecution against Soldier F.

"This issue is far from concluded," he said.

"We will fight on."

  • Video: John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday

The discontinuation of the high-profile prosecutions follows a review of the cases by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in light of a recent court ruling that caused the collapse of another Troubles murder trial involving two military veterans.

The Crown cases against both Soldier F and Soldier B hinged on evidence of a similar nature to that which was ruled inadmissible in April's trial of Soldier A and Soldier C for the 1972 murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in Belfast.

Soldier F, an ex-paratrooper, was accused of murdering Mr Wray and Mr McKinney on Bloody Sunday on January 30 1972, when troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Derry's Bogside, killing 13 people.

He also stood accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O'Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. He faced a further supporting charge of the attempted murder of a person or persons unknown on the day.

The case against him had reached the stage of a committal hearing at Derry Magistrates' Court to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

A mural in the Bogside area of Derry depicting Dr Edward Daly waving a blood-soaked handkerchief as he led fatally injured civil rights protestor away from gunfire on Bloody Sunday. Credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In the case of Soldier B, the PPS had announced in 2019 an intention to prosecute him for the murder of Daniel and the wounding with intent of his cousin Christopher Hegarty, then aged 16.

The shooting happened during Operation Motorman - an Army attempt to wrest control of no-go areas of Derry from the grip of the IRA.

Daniel and Christopher, who had gone to watch the military operation, were shot after encountering an Army patrol in the Creggan area in the early hours of July 31, 1972.

The PPS had not yet got to the stage of issuing summons to formally commence the prosecution of Soldier B - a delay caused by the veteran's unsuccessful High Court bid to challenge the move to bring charges against him.

His planned prosecution will now no longer proceed.

Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron said he recognised the decisions "bring further pain to victims and bereaved families who have relentlessly sought justice for almost 50 years".

He added: "The PPS has a duty to keep prosecution decisions under review and to take into account any change in circumstances as a case proceeds.

"The impact of this court ruling on these two cases was considered extremely carefully by my office with the assistance of advice from Senior Counsel.

"That led to the conclusion that a reasonable prospect of conviction no longer existed in proceedings against both Soldier B and Soldier F. In these circumstances, the prosecutions cannot proceed."

He added: "Legacy cases come with many challenges, particularly when they involve events which happened almost five decades ago and were not properly investigated at the time.

"It is particularly relevant in these two cases that contemporaneous accounts were obtained in circumstances that involved the denial of legal safeguards.

"The most formidable challenges and bringing modern-day prosecutions in relation to legacy matters often come from issues that can be traced back to the original investigation."

'Bad day for justice'

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has described the development as a "bad day for justice".

She added: "We will continue to stand by the Bloody Sunday and Hegarty families."

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the decision was "bitterly disappointing" and has raised concerns about the way families have been treated.

"It is galling that these cases appear to have collapsed because the British Army's historical investigation process was so deficient that the evidence collected is considered to be inadmissible," he said.

"These families are now in a position where their loved ones were killed by members of the British Army and their prosecutions have been discontinued because of the conduct of the British Army.

"It is totally unjust."

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who resigned as a defence minister over the treatment of veterans who served in Northern Ireland, said he had sympathy with the families, but that it was difficult to progress prosecutions after so many years.

He tweeted: "Another terribly sad day for Northern Ireland. Both for families who have been dragged along an unachievable path, and for veterans who’ve been broken by the process."

  • Video: Conservative MP and former Minister for Defence Johnny Mercer