In what was said to be a landmark case in prosecuting the British state and its soldiers for its actions during the Troubles turned out to be little more than tokenism as the Public Prosecution Service announced that only one solider, known as Soldier F, would be charged for their actions during Bloody Sunday. The PPS stated that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute 16 other soldiers. The verdict has been met with disappointment from the victims families. The brother of James Wray, a victim of the massacre whose murder “Soldier F” will be prosecuted for, said that “There are a lot of sad and heartbroken people today.”. Derry City Centre meanwhile saw a march by the families of victims of the massacre, along with hundreds others, who held up photos of the dead.
Already a great amount of anger has been generated by the comments of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Williamson has confirmed the Ministry of Defence would support “Soldier F” and pay all legal costs, stating that “We need to give protections to service personnel … to ensure we don’t have spurious prosecutions.”. The callous comments come as no surprise when just earlier this month, the world was subjected to the ignorance of Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley who espoused that security force killings were not crimes and were the actions of people “fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”. In similarly disgusting comments, Boris Johnson believed that the probe into Bloody Sunday was done to appease Sinn Fein.
The Bloody Sunday massacre was the shooting of 28 unarmed civilians who were on a civil rights protest against internment. 14 people would be killed, most of them fleeing from the bullets of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment. 6 of the dead were only 17 years old. After the funerals for the murdered victims came widespread anger, the British embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground and independent Irish Nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin famously slapped the Secretary of State Reginald Maudling leading to a brawl in parliament. It was the most blatant act of state terror in the sordid history of the British government during the conflict. It was however, by no means the only one.
An earlier TPN article has previously noted the history of Britain’s dirty war in Northerner Ireland. Britain acted the same way as other murderous state governments seeking to crush the liberationist peoples they oppose. The tactics of the British government are highly reminiscent of the death squads used by the Spanish in the Basque conflict and by the French in the Algerian War of Independence. Britain’s most infamous counter insurgency unit was the Military Reaction Force which was described by a former member as a “legalised death squad“. The group would commit random drive by shootings in Catholic areas with the aim of provoking and confusing Republican paramilitaries. This includes the murder of Patrick McVeigh on May 12th, 1972 and the injury of four others as they stood at a west Belfast barricade. There is no evidence that any of them were members of the IRA.
Collusion between British servicemen, the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries has been a matter up for investigation for years. The biggest crimes of the informal alliance have been attributed to the so-called Glenanne gang who are though to be responsible for more than 120 killings in an area of Mid Ulster once dubbed the ‘murder triangle’. This includes the notorious Miami Showband massacre where one of Ireland’s most popular cabaret acts were butchered after a bomb prematurely exploded their van and dazed band members were then slaughtered by UVF and UDR gunmen. It was believed that the band members were stopped by a bogus checkpoint and the bomb was supposed to explode later. Declassified documents have recently revealed that MI5 had supplied the Ulster Volunteer Force with detonators “which they had set to explode prematurely”. Survivor of the massacre, guitarist Stephen Travers stated that “I woke this morning to the news that, for the past 30 years, The Irish Government was in possession of a letter from the UVF admitting that they were given the bomb, by the British, that murdered the Miami Showband and left me dying in a blood-soaked field.”
The reaction to today’s verdict has been best summed up by Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill who said that “Bloody Sunday was a massacre of innocents. Today’s decision does not change that…There is of course huge disappointment that only one former soldier has been charged with two counts of murder and four attempted murders…But even the fact that one former soldier is to face trial is a significant achievement.” In the end much more is still needed in order to move on from the violent legacy of the Troubles. To remain in denial or actively block reconciliation will only stoke tensions and lead this country down a path it cannot hope to escape from. Britain must address the role it played in the Troubles for it faces a clear brutal legacy of murder and deceit. It is a legacy Britain can never escape from.