British prosecutors had no rational reason to drop murder charges against a soldier who allegedly killed unarmed protesters on Bloody Sunday and must revive the case, Northern Ireland’s top judge has ruled.
Wednesday’s judgment from Siobhan McKeegan cast fresh doubt on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to suppress all future court cases involving soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during three decades of bloodshed known as “The Troubles.”
Thirteen Irish nationalists were killed on January 30, 1972, when members of Britain’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on protesters in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Londonderry. Bloody Sunday became the largest mass killing committed by British forces in the entire conflict and spurred support for the outlawed Irish Republican Army, particularly in Derry, as Irish nationalists call the city.
The paratroopers — none of whom were injured — for decades claimed they had come under fire and were targeting IRA gunmen. But a 12-year inquiry concluded in 2010 that none of the victims posed a threat to the soldiers, all but one was unarmed and some had been fatally shot while lying wounded on the ground.
In 2019, the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland charged one former paratrooper with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder.
The man, now in his 70s, has been officially identified only as Soldier F to protect him from potential reprisals. Nonetheless, his identity is widely known, in part because lawmakers have used parliamentary privilege to name him in both the House of Commons and Ireland’s parliament, Dáil Éireann.
Last year, prosecutors dropped charges against Soldier F citing problems encountered when trying to press murder charges against long-retired soldiers linked to other 1970s-era killings. That decision came as Johnson and his Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, touted plans to block all future criminal cases and civil lawsuits linked to “The Troubles,” which claimed more than 3,600 lives.
But McKeegan quashed that decision in Wednesday’s judgment and instructed the director of the PPS, Stephen Herron, to revive the prosecution.
McKeegan said it should be up to a trial judge, not prosecutors, to determine whether previous incriminating statements made by Soldier F and comrades who opened fire on Bloody Sunday can be admitted in evidence.
The prosecutors’ decision to drop charges before trial “crosses the threshold of irrationality,” she said. “It simply does not add up. In other words, there is an error of reasoning which robs the decision of logic.”
The family of Bloody Sunday victim William McKinney, who had pursued a judicial review of the prosecutors’ decision, welcomed the judgment. McKinney, an amateur photographer taking pictures of the protest, was shot in the back as he tried to carry another mortally wounded man to safety.
Herron’s office offered no immediate comment.