[JURIST] The British government announced Thursday that it would pay reparations to the families of those killed or wounded in Northern Ireland’s 1972 Bloody Sunday, the day on which members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights marchers in Londonderry. The shooting killed 13 Northern Ireland civilians and wounded 15. The UK Bloody Sunday Inquiry [official website] released an assessment [JURIST report] in June of last year concluding that the attack by the British forces was unjustified. As a result, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) [official website] says it has written the lawyers representing the families of the victims, acknowledging their pain and offering monetary compensation. The inquiry, launched in 1998 by former prime minister Tony Blair [Guardian backgrounder], concluded that British soldiers fired without warning on unarmed civilians during the illegal civil rights march taking place that day. The inquiry also found that the soldiers continued to shoot the civilians as they were fleeing the gunfire. During the original inquiry following the incident the military unit held that they were aiming at armed individuals who were allegedly Irish Republican Army [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] militants. This led the government to pay out only small amounts of compensation at the time. However the modern investigation concluded that the civilians were not armed and no soldiers had suffered injuries from return fire, and so additional compensation for the victims is warranted. Upon the release of the investigation findings current 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 MoD has yet to determine the exact amount of the payments to be made, and several families have stated they will refuse to accept the compensation. The victims’ families had originally requested the investigation in order that their loved ones would 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 in British legal history. The government deposed more than 900 witnesses [JURIST report] in 432 days of testimony and took more than 1,500 written statements. The soldiers held responsible for the killings attempted to take action against the inquiry in 2004, arguing against the use of any standard below the criminal standard of proof because of the potential consequences facing them. Inquiry Chairman Lord Saville of Newdigate determined that the tribunal would not use a criminal standard of proof [JURIST report] to find if a soldier shot anyone without justification because the tribunal was merely investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths and issuing a report. The investigation came to fruition after the Irish government in 1997 produced new evidence that cast doubts on the conduct of the original tribunal established at the time of the incident, which labeled the victims as bombers and gunmen.