Just over forty-seven years ago on 31st January 1972, British troops shot dead thirteen unarmed demonstrators participating in a Civil Rights march in Derry. Another fifteen people were shot and wounded, one of whom later died from his injuries.
On Thursday, March 14th last, it was announced that just ONE British soldier, identified only as ‘Soldier F’, would face prosecution for his role on that fateful day.
One British soldier. One token prosecution.
Little wonder that in Derry, as across the rest of this island, that announcement was greeted with an emotive mix of incredulity, disbelief, frustration and anguish.
Rubbing salt into a still very open and painful wound, the British Ministry of Defence immediately issued a public statement saying that it would pay for all of ‘Soldier F’s’ legal and other defence costs with no cap on the amount involved.
Britain’s Secretary of Defence, Gavin Williamson, went even further by expressing his regret that protection for British forces personnel against “spurious prosecutions” was not implemented in time to prevent the prosecution of ‘Soldier F’.
Far from accepting any semblance of responsibility for the actions of its forces in Derry on Bloody Sunday, the British state remains totally committed to defending the indefensible.
That position was further reinforced by Britain’s Secretary of State for the Six Counties, Karen Bradley, who controversially said that killings carried out by British forces were “not crimes” but had been carried out by people “fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate manner”.
The reason for Britain’s approach is ultimately driven by self-preservation.
While ‘Soldier F’ may have indeed fired the shots which murdered Jim Wray and William McKinney, and which also wounded Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick McDonnell, he did not act on his own or against the orders of his superiors.
Those superiors included the officer in charge of British Land Forces in the Six Counties in January 1972, Major-General Robert Ford, who was present in Derry on Bloody Sunday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford commander of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was also present in Derry that same day.
The officer who compiled the British Army’s official ‘shot list’ on the day was Wilford’s adjutant – a relatively unknown Captain Michael Jackson who later became General Sir Michael Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, Britain’s most senior military officer.
Political cover for those senior British officers and their actions was provided by the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and his fellow government ministers. Almost fifty years later the British political class is again rallying to support their ‘boy’s and their murderous actions.
Derry’s Bloody Sunday, just like the Ballymurphy and Springhill Massacres in Belfast, was a very deliberate and planned military attack on unarmed and totally defenceless civilians that was approved at highest levels within the British military and political establishments.
In that respect, Derry is no different to other massacres of unarmed civilians which have been carried out by British forces in Palestine, Aden, Kenya, Malaya, Iraq and many other countries.
And just as has occurred elsewhere, no senior British military officer and no senior British political figure will ever have to fear prosecution for their war-crimes.