Prosecutors mull action against troops in N Ireland killings

16th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prosecutors mulled Wednesday bringing charges against soldiers named in a report on Bloody Sunday, one of Northern Ireland's darkest episodes, despite calls for the past to be laid to rest.

British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" killings of 13 people on a march in Londonderry by British soldiers in 1972 after the long-awaited Saville report was published Tuesday.

Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service said afterwards it was considering whether to prosecute anyone. It gave no date for when a decision would be taken but said it would be processed "as expeditiously as possible".

Opinions are split on whether soldiers should be put in the dock, or whether doing so would be unfair and even undermine hard-won peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, described the soldier, who was identified only by an initial in the report, who killed his relative and several others as a "serial killer".

"Serial killers are prosecuted and serial killers go to jail and as far as I'm concerned, that's where soldier F should go, to jail," he told AFP.

But a lawyer who represented troops at the 12-year Bloody Sunday inquiry insisted the findings did not open the door for prosecutions and accused top judge Mark Saville, who led it, of having "cherry picked" evidence.

"I think Lord Saville felt under very considerable pressure after 12 years and 191 million pounds to give a report which gave very clear findings even where in truth the evidence didn't support them," said Stephen Pollard.

"What he has had to do is adopt the pieces of evidence that fit the theory and abandon those that don't."

A group of six soldiers present on the day have spoken up to defend Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, a now-dead officer who was heavily criticised for sending soldiers in to the area where the killings took place.

They have suggested that he has been singled out because someone of rank had to be blamed, the BBC reported.

Mike Jackson, a former head of the army who was serving in Londonderry at the time, told the BBC he hoped the report would "lance the boil" of Bloody Sunday and the wider conflict in Northern Ireland.

There are also calls for a wider body to be set up to investigate other killings in Northern Ireland during the three decade-long Troubles, which pitched Catholics against Protestants and left some 3,500 people died.

Shaun Woodward, Northern Ireland secretary under the last government, told the BBC there was now "a real opportunity... to actually look for a process of reconciliation, of truth recovery, for all families".

The violence was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal but emotions still run high in Northern Ireland -- which is part of the United Kingdom along with England, Wales and Scotland -- over its violent history.

The inquiry, the longest-running and most expensive ever in Britain, cost more than 190 million pounds (275 million dollars, 230 million euros), and was commissioned by then British premier Tony Blair in 1998 as the peace process gained momentum.

A reminder of how relevant the events are to the present day came with a reference to the role played on that day by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander.

The report said McGuinness was present on Bloody Sunday and was probably armed with a sub-machine gun, which he may have fired, a claim he denied.

"There was absolutely no foundation or substance to that allegation," he said after the report's publication Tuesday.

The probe also said that he did not provoke any of the soldiers to open fire.

© 2010 AFP

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