Published on 21 Oct 2013

Bloody Sunday: justice has no time limit

The news from the Sunday Times that up to 20 former British soldiers may now be visited by the police in connection with the massacre of civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry 40 years ago, has caused predictable consternation in some political quarters.

What’s rather more surprising has been the reaction of a number of senior – very senior – former military people.

General Lord Richard Dannatt wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Bloody Sunday was an ugly chapter, but it is a closed chapter, and closed it should remain.”

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Take Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan who described the move to possible prosecutions as “politically motivated“.

Many people may think the brass are wrong in law, wrong morally and wrong politically.

In law, there is no statute which says you can get away with shooting dead somebody who is unarmed and posing no threat just because of the passage of time. And no right-thinking person would argue that there should be one, surely?

It follows that morally, there is no reason why justice should simply evaporate into thin air, just because four decades after a possible crime of mass- murder may have elapsed.

Justice must never become the hostage of time 

And here’s where the brass have it even more wrong: politically. Because of these facts of law, there is nothing political at all in pursuing the needs of justice. In fact, the only political nuance to any of this would be not to pursue the law, to decide not to act. That would be political – a political intervention into the normal workings of law.

So the brass have it wrong on all three counts. The law should take its course. If not, then the British state would be saying in effect that time exonerates you from a crime. That time allows you to get away with murder. You just have to let enough of it pass.

Nobody can wish that to be the case.

Whether or not prosecutions are possible, or any guilt provable after so long, are quite different questions. Whether anybody at all is guilty of any crime is simply a matter of law and evidence proof. And it must be said that every single paratrooper there that terrible afternoon is quite innocent of any wrongdoing until any jury may decide otherwise.

So this is a simple legal matter and the law must take its course. The most expensive public inquiry ever in these islands reached the verdict that the shooting of 26 unarmed people that day (14 of them fatally) was “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

It therefore follows that the law must take its course and justice must never become the hostage of time.

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11 reader comments

  1. quietoaktree says:

    “It therefore follows that the law must take its course and justice must never become the hostage of time.”

    –nor of any ´elite´ that attempt to falsify history.

  2. Jennifer Duddy says:
  3. Scott Osprey says:

    I think the fact that so many of “top-brass” in the military are keen for the matter not to be brought up shows that they are worried about their own job safety, as unless it can be proven that the paratroopers involved were not following strict orders when they opened fire, then the ordering officers must bear the brunt of the blame, and indeed must be tried for the murder of the innocent victims.

  4. John Surgeon says:

    All war crimes, or indeed incidents of soldiers opening fire upon civilians, must be thoroughly pursued until legal and moral justice is eventually attained.

  5. Glenn says:

    “So this is a simple legal matter and the law must take its course”.

    Does that also apply to the senior republicans in both Stormont and the Dail or is the “simple legal matter and the law” taking “its course” only reserved for non senior republicans???

  6. m Smith says:

    A proper investigation would put McGuiness in a very tricky situation. Or better still, a cell. He always told the world it was a ditry war. The UK government are now in a position of fear. Terrified to upset SF /IRA about any of their vile bombings in case they return to the UK mainland. What was the repair bill to Canary Wharf? To Westminster a few deaths mean nothing but destroy a building worth millions is a problem. If Cameron had guts he would be asking for apologies for Enniskillen, La Mon , Bloody Friday in Belfast which killed and destroyed more than Bloody Sunday and the Shankill bombings . But no, he would rather bow to the fear of terrorism. Like the IRA he is a coward.

    1. Danny says:

      If you allow the forces of the law to commit murder basically you are saying it’s ok for anyone to commit murder.

  7. John G says:

    Alex, not related to your comments – altough I agree with all you say here – but thought I’d let you know you were the subject of discussion on Radio Clyde’s phone-in earlier this evening. It concerned your guest appearance (maybe about 15-18 months ago?) and the two people on tonight – Jim Delahunt and Hugh Keevins – were saying (bravely, in your absence) that you told them nothing new about the Rangers fiasco, and that your good reputation was undeserved.

    I remember the show quite clearly, and you went through them like a knife through butter – as you did the whole of the mainstream media up here.

    I know you have far more important things to deal with now, but I’m afraid I have to report that nothing has changed, in succulent lamb terms.

  8. Glenn says:

    Mr Thompson, maybe you and channel 4 would like to do an expose on Martin McGuinness who unlike the soldiers at the Savile inquire give a rather limited account of his actions that day due to his IRA pledge of silence.

    How can the truth be out if one of the main players that day refuses to give a full account of his and those he commanded in the IRA that day. McGuinness actions and his accounts that day are at odds with the findings of the Saville inquire. McGuinness had a (how ironic) Thompson sub machine gun, yet he denies all the allegations made against him, but he would say that wouldn’t he.

    If there are court cases then the specter of the British deputy first minister sinn fein’s Martin McGuinness, a self confessed leader of the IRA at the time, in court giving evidence is a sight I will look forward to. Knowing that McGuinness have never spent a day in jail in Northern Ireland or any part of the UK for his IRA activities, will give his evidence just the edge we need, to make this a thriller.

    Now that we know all this Mr Thompson, do you really think there are going to be prosecutions of anyone never mind soldiers.

    “During the Saville Inquiry into the events of that day, Paddy Ward claimed to have been the leader of the Fianna, the youth wing of the IRA at the time of Bloody Sunday. He claimed that McGuinness and another anonymous IRA member gave him bomb parts that morning. He said that his organisation intended to attack city-centre premises in Derry on the same day. In response, McGuinness said the claims were “fantasy”,

    “On this basis we consider that this account by itself does no more than raise the possibility that, notwithstanding his denial, Martin McGuinness did fire a Thompson sub-machine gun on “single ” shot from the Rossville Flats on Bloody Sunday.
    It is worth pointing out that a number of people who witnessed McGuinness on the day corroborate some of the substance of Infliction’s claims”.

    “The inquiry concluded that, although McGuinness was “engaged in paramilitary activity” at the time of Bloody Sunday and had probably been armed with a Thompson submachine gun, there was insufficient evidence to make any finding other than they were “sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”

    “In 1973, he was convicted by the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court, after being arrested near a car containing 250 lb (113 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He refused to recognise the court, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment. In court, he declared his membership of the Provisional IRA without equivocation: ‘We have fought against the killing of our people… I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it’.[13]

    After his release, and another conviction in the Republic for IRA membership, he became increasingly prominent in Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican movement. He was in indirect contact with British intelligence during the hunger strikes in the early 1980s, and again in the early 1990s”

    “On February 20, 2005, Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell publicly named Ferris, Gerry Adams, and Martin McGuinness MP, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator, as members of the Army Council during a radio interview”.

    “On 27 July 2005, Michael McDowell expressed his belief that Adams, McGuinness, and Ferris had recently (i.e., within the previous few days) left the IRA army council. However he also claimed that it was his opinion that this by itself did not necessarily amount to a permanent split between the two organisations”.

    Even to a hack like you Mr Thompson, it must strike you as strange as to how McGuinness who said he left the IRA in 1974 continues to be a leading player in sinn fein/IRA right to this day, and was on the IRA’s so called army council, after his alleged departure of the IRA. As mentioned above by the then Irish justice minister Michael McDowell. But that is somewhere were you and channel 4 will refuse to go. And while your at it you can investigate Claudy and McGuinness part in that then when you have a free five munites you might turn your vast investigative powers to investigate Gerry Adams. But then again that would not fit in with channel 4’s or your anti UK, Protestant Unionist, agenda.

    1. John G says:

      Seldom, in the short history of bloggery, has so little been said in such a long-winded manner.

      A classic example of spectacularly missing the point.

  9. macca says:

    Alex….keep up the good work….it’s has d to accept for some but the british behaved in a manner no better than what one would expect of the worst regimes in history…it’s a story that should be told…shame on those who defend it

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