A decision to ban media from reporting on court proceedings against the only ex-British army paratrooper to face murder charges arising from the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre has been condemned by families of the victims and journalists alike.
At a preliminary hearing this week, District Judge Ted Magill placed a ban on the reporting of statements by the prosecution, the defence and witnesses due to give evidence, as well as confirming that the anonymity for the defendant would continue.
The former British Paratrooper, known as Soldier F, is charged with murdering Jim Wray (right) and William McKinney (left) after opening fire on a civil rights demonstration on January 30, 1972. Twelve others were murdered when British soldiers were allegedly urged by their superiors to ‘get some kills’ as part of a plan to exert control over the city.
Soldier F is also charged with attempting to murder Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn.
Michelle Stanistreet, of the National Union of Journalists, said: “This is an alarming ruling, which goes against the principle of open justice and the need for the criminal justice system to operate in public and be subject to public scrutiny.”
It is understood that as a result of the media ban, a number of people who had expected to be able to observe the process were prevented from doing so.
The judge also controversially refused to lift the anonymity of the defendant, and refused a request to adjourn the hearing to deal with a legal challenge on the issue.
Kate Nash, who lost both her brother and father in the massacre, condemned what she described as a “media blackout”.
“I will not stand idly by whilst justice for my Brother William and my Father Alexander Nash goes down the toilet,” she wrote. “The corruption of this justice system needs to be continually exposed here. The contempt they treat us with is disgraceful.”
Both the committal hearing and the challenge to the anonymity ruling are due to proceed on Tuesday.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the Bloody Sunday March Committee say there is no question of its campaign for truth and justice ending as a result.
They say that while it is to be welcomed that a member of the Parachute Regiment is going on trial for the Bloody Sunday murders, it’s not enough, and doesn’t do justice to the truth.
Kate Nash, who is spokesperson for the group, says it appears the British State hopes that the charge against Soldier F “will be the end of it” and that the campaigning will cease then.
“If that’s the case,” she says, “they have another thing coming”.
“To put all of the blame on Soldier F would be to shut our eyes to the single most important fact about Bloody Sunday - that the murders didn’t result from a breakdown of discipline on the part of the paras, but were planned and ordered at the highest levels,” she said.
“Soldier F was a lowly officer, a lance-corporal. No so Derek Wilford, a Lieutenant Colonel. Robert Ford was a General. Harry Tuzo was a Lieutenant General. Michael Jackson was a General. Frank Kitson was a Brigadier. Pat MacClelland was a Brigadier. All these top-rank officers were involved in ordering the Bloody Sunday killings and then covering them up.
“The cabinet of the day, led by Edward Heath, were up to their necks in it from the outset.
“But nobody is being held to account for anything that the British State feels it necessary to defend. Soldier F is being thrown to the wolves. He deserves it. But the rest of the wolf-pack is being allowed to slink away from the scene of the crime, not a bother on them,
“We shouldn’t let this happen. We shouldn’t accept just a tiny fraction of the truth.
“What message would that send to the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre, and of all of the other innocent people gunned down by State forces over the course of the Troubles?
“The demand of the Bloody Sunday campaign for almost half a century has not been for a bit of the truth or the truth in dribs and drabs, but for the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“The Bloody Sunday campaign will continue for as long as it takes.”