Don’t lose sight of who really suffered on Bloody Sunday

Posted By: March 18, 2019

Claire Simpson. Irish News. Belfast.Monday, March 18, 2019

IN the end, most of us could have predicted that the Bloody Sunday case would turn out to be another fudge.

The decision to prosecute just one former British soldier over the killing of two of the 13 dead smacks heavily of compromise.

The civil rights march on January 30, 1972, was a planned peaceful protest that ended in a series of horrific shootings by the Parachute Regiment.

The killings should have been swiftly investigated and those responsible brought before the courts.

Instead, the victims’ families had to endure the discredited Widgery Inquiry and a decades-long refusal by the British government to accept that some of its soldiers had indiscriminately shot the very civilians they claimed to be trying to protect.

The Saville Report, which unequivocally blamed the army for the events of that day, only served to point out what the victims’ families had known for decades.

Yet despite the landmark 2010 apology from then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his insistence that the killings were unjustified and unjustifiable, it’s clear that his message never filtered through the ranks of government.

Karen Bradley’s ridiculous claim that members of the security forces who carried out killings during the Troubles had acted “in a dignified and appropriate way” exposed the astonishing ignorance of her brief.

After more than a year as secretary of state, she actually seems to know less about the north than she did before her appointment – a feat even the dullest of her predecessors couldn’t manage.

Following news that only one man, soldier F, would be prosecuted, defense secretary Gavin Williamson —a bizarre figure fond of making unhelpful Alan Partridge-style interventions —managed to insult the victims’ families further by failing to mention any of the dead, only confirming that the Ministry of Defence would pay the soldier’s legal costs.

“Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution,” he burbled.

Call me simple-minded, but if you’ve shot dead an unarmed civilian perhaps you should be fearful that justice might one day come to call.

Mrs. Bradley and Mr. Williamson’s comments show that many in the Tory party are still clinging to the delusions of empire.

The British state has a poor record of owning up to past colonial crimes.

It took more than half a century for the British government to apologize for its role in the horrific torture and abuse of civilians in detention camps during the Mau Mau war in Kenya in the 1950s.

And abuses in Malaya during the dying days of the British Empire have never been properly addressed.

What Saville did was wipe away any false claims that the soldiers on Bloody Sunday acted in self-defense. Yet even with this clear evidence, myths about that day still persist.

Contrast Mr. Williamson’s bone-headed comments with those of former British soldier, now an Ulster Unionist MLA, Doug Beattie: “There are no winners here. Just victims. It’s important to remember their families today.”

It was clear from the outset that Saville could not give some of the families the legal redress they wanted.

Yet it gave them hope of potential prosecutions.

The families of James Wray and Willie McKinney will get to see their alleged killer in court. But a prosecution is not a conviction.

Our legal system, staffed by flawed human beings judging other flawed human beings, is a very imperfect process.

Given ill-advised interventions by two British government ministers, not to mention Prime Minister Theresa May’s discredited assertion that ex-paramilitaries are not being investigated for killings during the Troubles, it seems certain that the soldier F case will simply galvanize those who believe no serviceman should be prosecuted for past crimes.

Plans by former Grenadier Guard Alan Barry to stage a mass rally in Derry in protest at the Public Prosecution Service’s decision show a wilful insensitivity towards the victims’ families.

Describing those who died as “casualties of war”, Mr. Barry claimed last week that “the relatives need to just get over it and move on” – despite he himself showing an inability to do just that.

Unfortunately, in a political age where ill-informed screaming will always beat enlightened debate, it’s viewed like those of Mr. Barry which are likely to gain most support among a large section of the British public.

It’s only right that soldier F should be prosecuted. And if the MoD wants to pay his legal costs then that is the government’s decision.

But no-one should lose sight of who really suffered that day. It is the victims’ families, not soldier F, who will need protection from what is sure to turn into a legal circus.