THOUSANDS of motorcyclists have taken to the streets of London in protest against the planned prosecution of a British soldier over Bloody Sunday.
Soldier F is to face two murder charges and four attempted murder charges over the infamous massacre of 14 civil rights demonstrators by British paratroopers in Derry at the height of the Troubles on January 30, 1972.
The organisers of Friday's Rolling Thunder rally in the UK capital – several of them veterans themselves – said the protest was directed against the British Government rather than the victims' families.
Upwards of 5,000 bikers from around the country met on Park Lane at 12pm before the demonstration moved towards Parliament Square over the following hour.
The Metropolitan Police have deployed extra officers to assist with traffic management and motorists using the M25 and other major routes in and out of the capital have been warned to expect congestion and delays.
Protest organiser Christopher Davies said he expected "a possible 7,000 motorbikes to converge on London" but said anyone was welcome to participate in the ride.
Judging by images and videos from central London this afternoon, his prediction may well have been accurate.
Part of a cavalcade of 100s of bikers heading into central London just now in support of ‘Soldier F’ pic.twitter.com/suMPCunIXj
— Frank Gardner (@FrankRGardner) 12 April 2019
In case you thought Brexit was the only jingoistic bullshit on the agenda #RollingThunder https://t.co/tjCQO576I9 pic.twitter.com/rBevYF9AJZ
— (@daejangie) 12 April 2019
@BBC_HaveYourSay #RollingThunder #SoldierF pic.twitter.com/L5phYdNkMb
— Bob (@NewarkFLW) 12 April 2019
Last month, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute former 1 Para serviceman Soldier F over the killings of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell.
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.
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.
Advance Notice; 'Rolling Thunder' a group of motorcyclists are meeting up at locations around London this morning, forming up on Park Lane (Southbound) from 1200, looking to move off at 1300, delays to your journey possible. Police will be there to assist with traffic management
— MPS Events (@MetPoliceEvents) 12 April 2019
The then UK Prime Minister David Cameron later apologised for the killings in the House of Commons in a historic move which many Bloody Sunday veterans believed exonerated them.
However, it emerged in 2017 that the PPS was considering prosecuting up to 18 paratroopers who were involved in the massacre as well as two former Official IRA men.
But after last month's decision, families of the victims spoke of their disappointment that only one former soldier would face prosecution.
A British Government spokesperson said: "We are indebted to the soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
"Although the decision to prosecute was taken by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, which is independent from Government, we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected."
Me and a few mates at Blackheath.#RollingThunder pic.twitter.com/Ah7UVnLBsY
— Spyke (@SpykeDe) 12 April 2019
Rolling Thunder: bikers protesting against Bloody Sunday charges in Victoria, London pic.twitter.com/z3higILbmP
— Anthony Bonnici (@Anthony_Bonnici) 12 April 2019
Bikers protesting at Hyde park today re soldier F accused of killing two protestors in 1972 in Ireland. 7000 bikers expected in London / major traffic pic.twitter.com/CdVfm03icq
— Citywealth (@Citywealth) 12 April 2019