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UK prosecutors considering charges over 'Bloody Sunday' deaths

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for Northern Ireland announced Tuesday that it is considering whether to file charges [press release, PDF] against the British soldiers responsible for civilian casualties in the 1972 Bloody Sunday [BBC backgrounder] attack in Londonderry. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry [official website] released a report [text] of a 12-year investigation on Tuesday calling the soldiers' actions "unjustified and unjustifiable." The report raises the possibility of criminal prosecutions for offenses ranging from perjury to murder. The PPS stated that it would consult with the UK Crown Prosecution Service [official website] to determine the scope of jurisdiction [press release, PDF] in regard to any possible offenses that may arise. Critics hold that the prosecution of the soldiers is a divergence from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 [government backgrounder], which set up democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences between Britain and Ireland. The agreement resulted in the release of numerous Irish Republican Army [Global Security backgrounder] militants guilty of similar crimes as those committed by the British soldiers in Northern Ireland. The PPS did not give a date for determination of the soldier's prosecution, but stated that the "matter will be considered as expeditiously as possible."

The Bloody Sunday inquiry was launched in 1998 by former prime minister Tony Blair [Guardian backgrounder] in response to pressure from the victims' families. The final report concluded [JURIST report] that British soldiers fired upon unarmed civilians without warning during an illegal civil rights march in Londonderry. The inquiry also found that the soldiers continued to shoot the civilians as they were fleeing the gunfire. The military unit originally held that they were aiming at armed individuals who were allegedly IRA militants, but the investigation concluded that no soldiers suffered injuries from returned fire. The onslaught killed 13 civilians and wounded 15. UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] apologized [transcript] for the soldiers' malfeasance stating that although the atrocity happened almost 40 years ago, the victims and their families still deserved an apology from the current government for the mistakes of those in the past. The victims' families requested the investigation in order for their loved ones to be exonerated from being labeled IRA bombers and gunmen and to hold the British contingent responsible for the unjustified killings. The Bloody Sunday inquiry is the longest and most expensive public investigation [JURIST report] in British legal history.

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