Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has announced there is enough evidence to charge one British soldier with murder for the so-called Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland nearly 50 years ago.
Bloody Sunday is the nickname given to an incident that took place during a civil rights march on Jan. 30, 1972. On that day, 13 people were shot and killed as they fled police or tried to help those who were wounded. A 14th shooting victim died months later.
British authorities announced Thursday that a soldier known only as Soldier F will be prosecuted for the murders of protesters James Wray and William McKinney. Soldier F will also face charges for the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn.
The director of the Public Prosecution Service, Stephen Herron, said there was not enough evidence admissible in criminal proceedings to charge the other soldiers with the shootings. But the PPS has announced it will begin considering perjury charges against them.
“I am mindful that it has been a long road for the families to reach this point and today will be another extremely difficult day for them,” Herron said. “As prosecutors, we are required to be wholly objective in our approach.”
John Kelly, a representative for the families of the victims, told reporters and onlookers, “There’s a terrible disappointment at the outcome. … The full cost of Bloody Sunday cannot be measured just in those who died that day.”
After Thursday’s announcement, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson promised the government’s full support to Soldier F, including paying his legal costs. He also promised that the government will pass a new package of safeguards to protect members of the armed forces from unfair treatment.
“Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution,” he said.
The families of the victims of Bloody Sunday have hoped for years to have those who fired the fatal shots held accountable for the deaths.
The original investigation in 1972 concluded by clearing the soldiers and British authorities of blame, accepting the explanation that they shot at armed men.
A second investigation in 1998 concluded that the soldiers had given false testimony and that none of the shooting victims were armed or posed a threat to the soldiers. With that, British authorities began a murder investigation.
At the close of the second investigation in 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron made a public apology for the shootings, saying the shootings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.”