Northern Ireland prosecutor says 15 UK soldiers will not face perjury charges in Bloody Sunday Inquiry News
Lasse1974, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Northern Ireland prosecutor says 15 UK soldiers will not face perjury charges in Bloody Sunday Inquiry

The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) on Friday issued a decision to not prosecute 15 British soldiers on charges of perjury for allegedly providing false evidence relating to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. 

After receiving an investigation file submitted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which contained allegations of murder and attempted murder on Bloody Sunday, the PPS determined whether the available evidence was sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction in respect of allegations that the 15 soldiers and one former IRA member had indeed given false evidence in connection with the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. PPS said that it would not be pursuing prosecution of the 16 individuals, citing insufficient evidence. 

“After careful consideration, it has been concluded that the available evidence, in this case, is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction of any suspect for offenses in relation to the giving of false evidence,” PPS Senior Public Prosecutor John O’Neill said. “The decision-making involved the consideration of a vast amount of material. Consideration of the allegations of false evidence represented particularly complex evidential and legal issues, all of which were thoroughly analyzed by the prosecution team.”

According to O’Neill, the PPS identified three main issues which would preclude successful prosecution. Firstly, the PPS found that the Bloody Sunday Inquiry did not express its findings in terms amounting to the criminal standard of proof, which is the standard the PPS is obligated to consider. Secondly, the vast majority of the findings related to the rejection of the former soldiers’ accounts in 1972 would not be admissible in a court of law today. Finally, the evidence upon which the Bloody Sunday Inquiry based its findings is not available in full to the prosecution today. It is this lack of adequate evidence and absence of sufficient witness statements that have made, in the PPS’s view, a successful prosecution impossible. 

“I wish to make clear that these decisions not to prosecute in no way undermine the findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that those killed or injured were not posing a threat to any of the soldiers,” O’Neill continued, acknowledging that this decision would likely disappoint the victims and their families, and affirming that the PPS had sought personal contact with the individuals concerned to explain in detail the reasons for the decision to not prosecute. “These decisions were taken impartially, independently, and only after the most thorough and careful consideration of all available evidence and the relevant legal issues.”

Bloody Sunday, widely regarded as one of the deadliest days of the decades-long Northern Ireland conflict, was a massacre on January, 30 1972 when British soldiers fatally shot or injured 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry, Northern Ireland. Two investigations were held by the British government. The Widgery Tribunal, held in the near-immediate aftermath, absolved the soldiers and British authorities of blame and was widely criticized as being a “whitewash” of the incident. The second investigation, formally known as the Saville Inquiry though widely regarded as the ‘Bloody Sunday Inquiry’, was established in 1998 as an effort to re-investigate the incident more thoroughly. Spanning 12 years, the resulting report was made public in 2010 and concluded that the killings were “unjustified” and not justifiable. The soldiers involved asserted that they were firing at gunmen and bomb-throwers, and as such, were justified. 

On publication of the report, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologized. A series of murder investigations followed, and one former soldier was charged with murder. The case was dismissed two years later when the evidence was deemed inadmissible. However, the case against the ex-paratrooper, known as Soldier F, was revived in 2022. Soldier F is set to face trial for two murders and five attempted murders. He was among the 15 soldiers set to be charged with perjury.