Prosecutors' decision to drop Bloody Sunday murder charges overturned by Belfast court
The family of a man murdered on Bloody Sunday have said they are delighted with a court ruling overturning a decision by prosecutors to drop the case, saying they hope it brings them a "step closer to justice".
Senior judges directed the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to rethink its determination that Soldier F should not stand trial for two killings in Derry 50 years ago.
Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan confirmed: “This is a rare occasion where we consider the decision should be quashed and reconsidered.”
Michael McKinney said he was delighted with the ruling. His brother William was 26 when he was killed on Bloody Sunday.
"We are delighted for our own family, but also for the family of Jim Wray and those who were wounded in Glenfada Park," he said.
“It was with regret that we were forced to bring these proceedings in the first place, but the PPS did not engage with us properly in respect of its decision making, but in fact came to Derry last July and presented us with a determination it had already decided upon. “As the court has remarked, this was in breach of the Charter for Victims and forced our hand.”
He added: "This thing has been dragged out for so many years, it is just ridiculous.
"Hopefully things will start moving now and we will get him into court and get justice."
A solicitor representing most of the families urged the authorities to press ahead with the prosecution. Ciaran Shiels, of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said: “We would call upon the PPS to move immediately to re-institute the proceedings at Derry District Judge’s Court against Soldier F, and to secure his committal for trial in the Crown Court. “The families continue to be vindicated in their long pursuit of justice.” Mr Shiels added: “We will now study this long and complex judgment and consider if there are any further legal remedies available to families in respect of whom there will be no prosecution of any soldier.”
The PPS said it would consider the ruling.
Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron said: “Today’s Divisional Court ruling, in relation to the PPS decision to discontinue proceedings against Soldier F, acknowledged the difficult and complex legal issues faced by prosecutors when assessing the admissibility of statements made by soldiers in particular circumstances in 1972.
"The team involved in the Soldier F prosecution will take time to consider the full detail of the written judgment, when available, and its impact on these proceedings.
"We will update the district judge and the parties directly involved in the Soldier F prosecution on the outcome of this process at the earliest opportunity."
He also pointed out that the court upheld their original decisions not to prosecute other soldiers reported in relation to events on Bloody Sunday.
“I would like to acknowledge the lasting pain and frustration of the families involved in these Judicial Review proceedings and their wider campaign for truth and justice," he added.
"It is important that we effectively engage with the families and we are committed to doing so.”
The court dismissed separate challenges to the PPS deciding against prosecuting other Army veterans in connection with six of the deaths. Identifying issues around the admissibility of evidence from ex-servicemen compelled to give statements at the time, Dame Siobhan held that a senior prosecutor had applied the correct legal test in those cases. “(She) has formed a permissible view that there is not a reasonable prospect of the evidence being admitted and in the absence of that evidence there is insufficient other evidence for a reasonable prospect of conviction,” the Lady Chief Justice said. Thirteen people were killed when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Derry on January 30, 1972. Another of those wounded died later. In 2010, the Saville Inquiry into the events on Bloody Sunday established the innocence of all of those who died. Victims’ families brought legal challenges against decisions which meant five of the former paratroopers would not face trial for some of the killings.
In July last year, the PPS announced it was discontinuing charges against Soldier F for the murders of William McKinney and James Wray, 22, plus at least five counts of attempted murder.
The case against him was reviewed following the collapse of separate criminal proceedings against two other military veterans for Troubles-era offences.
Based on an assessment of the admissibility of evidence from the time, it was concluded that the test for prosecution was no longer met.
The PPS was also challenged for not charging former paratroopers with the murders of Mr McKinney; Jackie Duddy, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; John Young, 17; Michael McDaid, 20; and 41-year-old father-of-six Bernard McGuigan.
At the time of the shootings, the Royal Military Police (RMP) took statements from soldiers who opened fire, with further accounts prepared for the original tribunal chaired by Lord Widgery in 1972.
The case centred on a dispute about whether those statements would be ruled inadmissible in any criminal trial.
According to the families, the prosecuting authority's assessment of the evidence was legally and fundamentally flawed.
During a four-day hearing, it was claimed that a decision not to charge one of the paratroopers with Mr McGuigan’s murder bordered on the perverse.
But counsel for the PPS insisted it had properly considered the evidential test and likely outcome of any criminal process.
He described the process as “unimpeachable” and argued that the authority would be abdicating its responsibilities by bringing to trial cases regarded as having no realistic prospect of securing convictions.
Judges were also told that the paratroopers interviewed about the events on Bloody Sunday were compelled to give statements in violation of their right to protection from self-incrimination.
Their accounts to senior ranking RMP officers were involuntary and legally inadmissible as evidence, it was contended.
Delivering judgment, Dame Siobhan held that the decision not to prosecute various soldiers for the deaths of Mr McKinney, Mr Duddy, Mr Kelly, Mr Young, Mr McDaid, and Mr McGuigan was legally sound. Referring to the paratrooper’s accounts to Widgery, she said: “It is unfortunately infected with the same problem as the other 1972 evidence, which is the element of compulsion coupled with the absence of individual legal protections.”
However, the court reached a different conclusion over the decision to discontinue criminal proceedings against Soldier F. Prosecution had been recommended, based on a reasonable prospect that third party statements from other soldiers would be admitted at trial, Dame Siobhan pointed out. She stated: “Overall, we do not consider that the rationale for the change of mind which we have set out above is sustainable. “In our view, it strays too far away from the original merits-based assessment of the PPS in circumstances where in fact little if anything of direct relevance to the Soldier F prosecution has changed.” Confirming that the PPS should carry out a reassessment in the Soldier F case, the Chief Justice added: “There is a difficulty with the conclusion that the reasonable prospect of conviction previously found had dissipated so that the prosecution should be discontinued at this stage.”