Prosecuting soldiers “would set a dangerous precedent”

Posted By: March 11, 2019

“ They would say that, wouldn’t they?”—Fr. Sean McManus

Aine Fox. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, March 11, 2019

PROSECUTING British soldiers over the deaths of civilians on Bloody Sunday would set a dangerous precedent for the British army’s future operations around the world, a former military chief has said.

Lord Ramsbotham, who was the military assistant to the chief of the general staff at the time of the shootings, said he is hopeful that soldiers from support company of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment will not face charges 47 years on from the killings.

He said there is “profound” concern within the British army about the effect such prosecutions might have on a soldier who, he said, “only obeys an order”.

“The position of a commander giving an order to somebody to open fire, if it’s likely to end up in court, the soldier receiving the order and the person giving the order will think twice about it in the future,” Lord Ramsbotham said.

“And that could have very serious implications if we’re defending this country.

“I’m thinking outside the box, as it were, and Londonderry.

But I am thinking in terms of the command and control of the army as a whole.

“I hope that they are not prosecuted because it sets a very difficult precedent. It’s a very dangerous precedent.”

Lord Ramsbotham (84) who was then Lieutenant Colonel David Ramsbotham, was in London when he took a phone call on the evening of Sunday, January 30, 1972, telling him people had been killed at the civil rights march.

“I was obviously very sorry that lives had been lost because one never likes lives being lost at all, and the thought that the soldiers might have been involved in

killing people on the streets of Londonderry,” he said.

He recalled that General Sir Michael Carver, then head of the British army, had been “appalled” by the news.

“As far as my boss was concerned, he was appalled that a civil rights march, which is what it was advertised as should have resulted in so many deaths,” he said.

He and General Carver visited the regiment a week after the shootings and Lord Ramsbotham said he “got the impression the regiment was full of remorse for what had happened and was obviously nervous about the inquiry into what was going on, what had happened”.

Recently one of those being considered for prosecution, identified only as Sergeant O, claimed in an interview with the BBC that he still believed that what happened on Bloody Sunday was a “job well done”.

Asked if he was shocked at this comment, Lord Ramsbotham, above, said: “You’ve got to remember that he’s looking back on events that happened at a particular time quite a long time ago and I know memories get distorted over time but I wish he hadn’t said that particularly because it will give such offense to the families.”

Lord Ramsbotham said he was “not excusing anything that happened”, but added that he felt it was time for an end to the idea of historical prosecutions.

“I’m involved in the general hope that a line could be drawn and we could stop the idea of prosecuting people for something that happened in the 1970s,” he said.

“I’m not talking about Bloody Sunday, I’m talking about the general historical inquiries.

“I regret that they are even being considered because I think that there comes a time when you’ve got to draw a line in the sand about these things, regrettable though they are.”

If the Public Prosecution Service announces it intends to prosecute some or all of the 18 soldiers under consideration, Lord Ramsbotham has urged the British government to ensure they are supported.

“The country must stand by the people who it sent to act for them,” he said.