Bloody Sunday families decry decision not to prosecute 15 veterans for perjury

<span>Names of the victims of Bloody Sunday are inscribed on a memorial in Derry, Northern Ireland.</span><span>Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters</span>
Names of the victims of Bloody Sunday are inscribed on a memorial in Derry, Northern Ireland.Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Relatives of Bloody Sunday victims have condemned a decision not to prosecute 15 former soldiers for perjury, calling it an affront to the rule of law.

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) on Friday announced the 15 army veterans plus a former alleged member of the Official IRA would not face prosecution for allegedly giving false evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

The decision extinguished one of the families’ few remaining hopes of legal action over the massacre by troops of 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Derry in 1972.

“We consider that today’s ruling by the PPS is an affront to the rule of law and a continuation of the injustice that was perpetrated on Bloody Sunday,” said John Kelly, on behalf of the families. Kelly’s 17-year-old brother Michael was one of the victims.

Ciarán Shiels of the legal firm Madden and Finucane, which represents several Bloody Sunday families, said solicitors would consider the decision and did not rule out further legal action.

Shiels said it was regrettable that the PPS decision came just weeks before the government’s controversial legacy legislation granted conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences.

Soldiers shot 31 civilians in Derry on 30 January 1972. Thirteen died that day. Another casualty who died four months later is widely considered a 14th victim but his death was officially attributed to a brain tumour.

An inquiry by Lord Widgery in 1972 cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing, prompting accusations of a whitewash.

Tony Blair’s government ordered a new inquiry in 1998 under Lord Saville that lasted 12 years and concluded in 2010 that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Saville said many of the paratroopers involved had given false accounts.

John O’Neill, a senior PPS prosecutor, said the standard of proof for a criminal prosecution was high and that Saville’s rejection of evidence by some individuals did not constitute criminal standard of proof.

“For a conviction, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt, through available and admissible evidence, the commission of a criminal offence by the suspect. After careful consideration, it has been concluded that the available evidence in this case is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction of any suspect for offences in relation to the giving of false evidence.”

The PPS decision did not undermine the inquiry findings that those killed or injured had not posed a threat to soldiers, said O’Neill. “We acknowledge that these prosecutorial decisions will be disappointing to the victims and families involved, and that this may be another difficult day for them. We have written to them to explain in detail the reasons for the decisions.”

One veteran of Bloody Sunday, known as Soldier F, is facing prosecution for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and five attempted murders.