Relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims say they feel “a flicker of hope” following the questioning of a former British soldier involved in the 1972 massacre, despite renewed efforts to block their justice campaign.
Thirteen people were killed when British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights march through the city in January 1972. A fourteenth died later.
‘Soldier J’, who appeared before the Saville Inquiry in 2002, was questioned and released by detectives from the PSNI’s new Legacy Investigations Branch, which replaced the discredited Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother, William, was killed on Bloody Sunday, said she welcomed the news.
“I started to shake. I couldn’t believe it. I became very emotional. To see a soldier even being questioned has truly shocked me. I never thought it would get to this. There is a flicker of hope. It’s a very positive step.”
The 66-year-old, who lives in County Antrim, is the first person to ever be arrested as part of the Bloody Sunday investigation.
The PSNI man leading the investigation said the arrest “marked a new phase in the overall investigation which would continue for some time”.
Family members have expressed their hope that murder charges against the soldiers could finally reveal who ordered the massacre. But there were signs that powerful forces in the British establishment remain determined to maintain a cover-up.
Former British defence minister Gerald Howarth described the arrest of ex-soldiers over Bloody Sunday as “not in the public interest”. The Tory MP for Aldershot, where the Bloody Sunday paratroopers were based, said the British prime minister David Cameron had intended the Saville Inquiry and his apology to close a “painful chapter”. “Matters should not be re-opened”, he declared.
Former British Direct Ruler Lord Mandelson also said the investigation should be stopped. He told Channel 4 News: “There are perils in going back so far into history. Perils over the evidence that is available, people’s memories, people’s ability to produce their own evidence and facts so long ago.”
Seven former soldiers have now begun legal action against the PSNI in the High Court, demanding a judicial review of the way the PSNI is conducting its inquiry.
According to reports, lawyers for the soldiers have questioned the legality of the investigation and claim it is being pursued for political reasons. They also claim it would be illegal to arrest any of the soldiers in their homes without 24 hours prior notice.
The Bloody Sunday families have demanded that the PSNI treat former paratroopers the same as any other suspect in a murder investigation.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said the legal move was an indication that former soldiers realise they could be receiving the “same knock on the door as Soldier J.”
“As far as I am concerned it should be business as usual for the PSNI investigation. Why should they be treated any differently; what sort of a society would we live in if that was to happen?” he said.