ONE former British paratrooper involved in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre of 14 civilians in Derry is to face prosecution, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service has announced.
The PPS found there was sufficient evidence to charge the ex-serviceman 'Soldier F', but insufficient evidence to bring charges against 16 other former members of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment and two IRA suspects present on the day of the killings.
The ex-soldier has been hand-delivered a letter informing him of the decision. He cannot be named due to an anonymity order but is believed to be aged in his 60s or 70s.
The man has been charged with the murders of James 'Jim' Wray, 22, and William McKinney, 26, during a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration in the largely Catholic area of Derry's Bogside on January 30, 1972.
He has also been charged with the attempted murder of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell – four men who were among 15 others injured in what was one of the darkest days of the Troubles era in Northern Ireland.
Back in 2010, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry by Lord Saville found that the massacre had been "unjustified and unjustifiable" and acknowledged that none of the victims had posed a threat when killed.
The then UK Prime Minister David Cameron later apologised for the killings in the House of Commons, in a historic move which many former servicemen in the Bogside that day believed exonerated them.
But in 2017, it emerged that the PPS was considering prosecuting up to 18 paratroopers who were involved in the massacre as well as two former Official IRA men.
Those killed on Bloody Sunday were John 'Jackie' Duddy, 17, Michael Kelly, 17, Hugh Gilmour, 17, John Young, 17, Kevin McElhinney, 17, Gerard Donaghy, 17, William Nash, 19, Michael McDaid, 20, James 'Jim' Wray, 22, William McKinney, 26, Patrick Doherty, 31, Gerard McKinney, 35, and Bernard 'Barney' McGuigan, 41.
A fourteenth victim – 59-year-old John Johnston – later died from wounds sustained in the shooting.
Families of the victims said they were "disappointed" by the decision to press charges against just one ex-soldier, and revealed they may ultimately bring a challenge to the High Court after giving a "detailed consideration" to the reasons provided by the PPS.
The families had gathered in the city's Bogside at around 9am this morning before marching to the Guildhall to hear the decision, while singing the Civil Rights anthem 'We Shall Overcome'.
They were informed of the unprecedented move shortly after 10.30am before it was made public around half an hour later at 11am.
The PPS pored over more than 125,000 pages of evidence from Bloody Sunday in coming to their decision.
Ciaran Shiels, the solicitor for several of the victims' families, said: "We are disappointed that not all of those responsible are to face trial.
"We will give detailed consideration to the reasons provided for decisions not to prosecute the other soldiers, with a view to making further submissions to the Prosecution Service and we shall ultimately challenge in the High Court, by way of judicial review, any prosecutorial decision that does not withstand scrutiny".
However, Mr Shiels did welcome the news of Soldier F's prosecution as a "remarkable achievement by the families and victims of Bloody Sunday".
He added: "Notwithstanding the unprecedented attempted political interference with the independence of the judicial process, the families have not only succeeded in consigning the Widgery report to history, and securing the complete vindication and declaration of innocence of all of the victims of Bloody Sunday through the Saville Inquiry, they have now secured the prosecution of Soldier F for the murder and attempted murder of six innocent people."
The UK's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Ministry of Defence will pay Soldier F's legal costs.
"We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland," Mr Williamson said.
"The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today's decision. This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support.
"The Ministry of Defence is working across Government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated.
"And the Government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution."
Statement from @GavinWilliamson on Bloody Sunday charges: pic.twitter.com/Avr6NmUnjV
— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) 14 March 2019