In Depth

What happened on Bloody Sunday?

Former British paratrooper faces murder charges over two killings in Londonderry in 1972

Coffins of the victims after Bloody Sunday

A former British paratrooper is to be charged with murder in connection with the Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry in 1972, prosecutors in Northern Ireland have announced.

The ex-serviceman, known only as Soldier F, faces charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

However, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service said there was not enough evidence to bring charges against 16 other soldiers.

James Wray’s brother Liam told the BBC he was “very saddened for the other families” of those killed during the civil rights march on 30 January 1972.

“Their hearts must be broken,” he said. “It has been a sad day but the Wray family are relieved.”

Bloody Sunday was one of the most infamous episodes of Northern Ireland's Troubles. Thirteen people were shot dead by British soldiers, who opened fire on a banned demonstration in the Catholic Bogside area of Derry. A 14th person later died.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government would cover the serviceman’s legal costs and provide him with welfare support.

“We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland,” he said. “The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance.”

Bloody Sunday: what happened that day

The massacre took place against a backdrop of increasing tensions between the Catholic communities in Northern Ireland and the British Army. Troops had first arrived in the province in 1969 to try to combat the nationalist IRA and quell religious violence between Catholics and Protestants. By early 1972 rioting against the Army was commonplace and many soldiers and civilians had lost their lives. Things came to a head on 30 January when a Catholic march protesting against the British policy of internment without trial for suspected Irish nationalists ended in tragedy. Estimates of the numbers involved in the march have varied from 3,000 to 30,000; the actual figure is now taken to be between 10,000 and 15,000. Trouble flared when the proposed route of the march was blocked in Bogside, and British troops manning the barricades used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse the rioters. Such scenes were not uncommon at the time, but as the afternoon drew on reports came through of an IRA sniper being seen in the area - and the situation quickly escalated. Amid concerns that troops could be shot at, the Parachute Regiment was sent into the Bogside with orders to arrest protestors. As the chaos escalated, the order was given to begin firing live ammunition. The first to die was 17-year-old Jackie Duddy who was shot in the back as he fled the Paras, who were pursuing the crowd. He was standing near a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was hit.

Although a ceasefire order was sent from HQ, in the confusion many soldiers continued firing live rounds - and over 100 were discharged during a 25-minute period. Twelve more people, including a further six teenagers, were killed and another 14 were injured: 12 were shot and two were knocked down by Army personnel carriers. The British Government initially claimed the paratroopers had come under gun and nail bomb attack from members of the IRA. However, no eyewitness accounts backed up those claims, no soldiers were injured and no bullets or nail bombs were recovered.

Instead, those present, including local residents and British and Irish journalists, said that the soldiers fired at people fleeing the scene and tending the wounded. In the aftermath of the tragedy the British embassy in the Irish capital Dublin was burned down by an angry mob. There have been two inquiries into Bloody Sunday. The first, the Widgery Tribunal, overseen by the Lord Chief Justice Baron Widgery, was convened in the immediate aftermath of the shootings and largely exonerated the British - although it did describe the actions of the soldiers involved as “bordering on the reckless”.

The findings were denounced by many at the time and in 1998 the then prime minister Tony Blair established the Saville Inquiry to take another look at the tragedy.

The 12-year inquiry, led by Lord Saville and published in 2010, concluded that soldiers fired the first shot without warning and that many of the victims were clearly fleeing or trying to help others.

The Saville Report exonerated those who died and then prime minister David Cameron issued a formal apology to the victims on behalf of the state.

“What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable,” he said. “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the country, I am deeply sorry.”

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