Soldier F could still face prosecution over 1972 Bloody Sunday deaths

23 March 2022, 15:32

Former British paratrooper Soldier F may still face prosecution for double murder at Bloody Sunday
Former British paratrooper Soldier F may still face prosecution for double murder at Bloody Sunday. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

British army veteran Soldier F, accused of killing two civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, could face prosecution after a high court judge quashed a decision to drop murder charges.

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The High Court in Belfast quashed the decision to drop two murder charges against the former paratrooper over the deaths of James Wray and William McKinney, who were shot during a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry in 1972 along with 11 others.

Delivering the ruling in Belfast on Wednesday, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan McKeegan said the decision by the PPS "crossed the threshold of irrationality".

The PPS announced last year it was halting the prosecution of Soldier F for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney amid concerns the case could collapse in light of a separate court ruling on the admissibility of evidence which caused the collapse of another Troubles murder trial involving two military veterans.

The McKinney family then launched a judicial review to challenge the PPS decision.

William McKinney's brother Mickey said that he welcomed the court ruling and that the case could now proceed after a "ridiculous" amount of time.

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He said: "On the Soldier F case, the judge has put it back to the PPS to reconsider their decision. We are pleased at that.

"Hopefully this will now move things on and get the case started.

"I hope this is a step closer to justice. 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."

Delivering the ruling on Wednesday, the Lady Chief Justice said: "This is a rare occasion where we consider the decision should be quashed and reconsidered."

She added: "We consider that the decision crosses the threshold of irrationality where it simply does not add up, or in other words there is an error of reasoning which robs the decision of logic.

"It follows that the matter should remain with the PPS to reconsider the decision.

"There has already been considerable delay in the criminal process and so it may be that the swiftest and most effective course is actually for the district judge to be asked to rule on the admissibility issue in the first instance.

"It may be that public confidence in the interests of justice are best served by a definitive judicial determination on this issue by a court properly seized of the merits.

"The PPS will now have to decide on the next steps."

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However, judicial reviews taken by a number of Bloody Sunday families to challenge a PPS decision not to take prosecutions against several other veterans were dismissed by the court.

The case centred on arguments about whether statements made by the soldiers in 1972 would be ruled inadmissible in any criminal trial.

The Lady Chief Justice said she considered there was "no error in law" in these decisions by the PPS.

She added: "(The PPS) 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."

Bloody Sunday was one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland's history, when British soldiers shot dead 13 civil rights protesters in the Bogside area of Londonderry.

Another man shot by paratroopers on January 30 1972 died four months later.

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While many consider him the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday, his death was formally attributed to an inoperable brain tumour.

A solicitor representing families of Bloody Sunday victims has said that Soldier F should now be committed for trial.

Solicitor Ciaran Shiels, of Madden and Finucane, who represents a number of the Bloody Sunday families, said: "We warmly welcome the decision of the Divisional Court today to quash the decision of the PPS to discontinue the prosecution against Soldier F for two counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder."

He added: "The PPS must now review its decision, taking into account this court's judgment, and properly applying the principles and guidance provided today by it.

"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.

"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."