“Bloody Sunday” and the call for the prosecution.

On 30 January 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland, the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army (1 PARA) shot twenty-six unarmed civil rights protesters.  Thirteen males, seven of who were teenagers, died immediately.  Another man died four and a half months later from injuries received.  Five of those wounded were shot in the back.

The British Government has conducted two investigations.  First, immediately following the events, the “Widgery Tribunal” conducted an investigation.  The tribunal effectively cleared the British soldiers and authorities of blame.  However, the report was heavily criticized and described as a “whitewash.”  Second, in 1998, “The Saville Inquiry” was established to re-examine “Bloody Sunday.”  On June 15, 2010, Saville’s report was published and concluded that “the firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.”  Following publication, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Following publication of the “The Saville Inquiry” into the events of “Bloody Sunday,” there is an ongoing debate as to whether the soldiers involved should be prosecuted.  However, a number of problems exist.  For example, the evidence is 38 years old and a great deal will depend on whether the evidence has survived, perished, or disappeared.  Further, the age and reliability of the witnesses may be a problem.  Also, the defendants charged could argue that they would not receive a fair trial due to the passage of time.  In addition, the witnesses who gave evidence to the “Saville Inquiry” were given immunity from prosecution arising from self-incrimination.  However, the immunity from prosecution arising from self-incrimination does not cover false testimony.  Saville concluded that some British paratroopers “knowingly put forward false accounts.”  Thus, the possibility of prosecutions for perjury arises.  However, is prosecution desirable following the “Good Friday Agreement” and the “Peace Process” in Northern Ireland?  Would a monetary remedy be acceptable to the families?  Would a more formal apology be more suffice?



  1. Since the immunity doesn’t cover false testimony, I think it would be desirable for the men to be prosecuted. There is a lot of publicity and lack of accountability for Bloody Friday. I also see the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process as supporting the prosecution. They were both created during the ending of the war between Ireland and England, so prosecuting the men responsible would further signify an end to the disputes and settlement of the damages done. While the evidence is old, I think it would greatly help both countries to finally settle accountability for the event.

  2. Admittedly, closure to historic disagreements of the past is a worthwhile goal and would give the families of these protestors some peace. However, I believe that prosecuting for events occurring 38 years ago may result in several problems. First, as the post author states, the evidence is old and the witness’ memory may be affected by the passage of time. Further, the argument that they may not get a fair trial is not without merit given the heightened worldwide stance against terrorist acts and the current worldwide initiatives in the Middle East. Finally, reopening this tragedy to prosecution may lead to other similar occurrences. While what happened to these 26 protestors and their families is tragic, re-opening this case on dated evidence may prompt a similar response for any number of other historical tragedies. Would this result in justice overall?

  3. Sunday Bloody Sunday– There is certainly enough evidence and public interest in prosecuting these soldiers. The Saville Report is a 5,000-page report, compiled over 12 years, and based on testimony from 921 witnesses, 2,500 written statements and 60 volumes of written evidence. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/call-for-bloody-sunday-prosecutions-15069028.html#ixzz1pOPpEjAz. It shows that none of the victims was armed, and that soldiers gave no warning before opening fire. Several commentators have pointed out that, while the soldiers enjoy immunity from self-incrimination, this immunity does not prevent prosecution by independently corroborated evidence (i.e., evidence from a third party source or witness).

    Moreover, the ‘early release scheme’ of the Good Friday Agreement does not apply to offenses as far back as 1972. http://www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk/community/no-deal-for-soldiers-1-3600442. Clause 3 (7)(b) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act describes a “qualifying offence” for early release as one which, when committed, was a scheduled offence within the meaning of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act of 1973, 1978, 1991 or 1996. Therefore, as the first Act came into being in 1973, no offences committed before that are covered in the early release scheme.

  4. One other note: It’s worthwhile knowing, especially set against the backdrop of St. Patrick’s Day, that the Irish saved western civilization. While Europe was being overrun by the barbarians, Holy Men like St. Patrick preserved everything possible from destruction by the Roman Empire. They instilled in Western culture a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become an Ireland of Saints and Scholars.

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