Bloody Sunday’s unfinished business

Confirmation this week that compensation payments will be offered to vicitims of ‘Bloody Sunday’ and their families has shone a light on some unfinished business.

Confirmation from the Ministry of Defence earlier this week that compensation payments will be offered to those injured and to the families of the men killed on ‘Bloody Sunday’ has shone a light on the unfinished business of that terrible tragedy.

Twenty-seven men were shot by British paratroops while attending an anti-internment march in the centre of Derry on January 30th 1972.

Thirteen were killed outright, including seven teenagers. Five of the dead were shot in the back. A 14th man died of his injuries four months later.

No soldiers were either shot or injured.

Fast-forward 38 years to June 15th 2010 and publication of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry’s landmark report. Lord Saville’s mammoth 5,200-page tome exonerated all of the victims of any action that could have resulted in their death or injury and found there had been a “serious and widespread” loss of control by the soldiers deployed to break up the march.

Earlier this year, the law firm Madden and Finucane, which represents many (but not all) the Bloody Sunday families wrote to prime minister David Cameron pressing for compensation for the victims and their families.

The letter asked what arrangements would be put in place for:

“…the loss of their [clients’] loved ones, the wounding of others, and the shameful allegations which besmirched their good name for many years.”

The issue was passed to the MoD which has now written to the lawyers saying it would like to resolve the compensation claims as quickly and efficiently as possible. Exactly how any payments will be calculated remains moot.

Left Foot Forward understands there is not yet a finalised plan for calculating amounts or deciding who is eligible, although there is talk of using a points-based system. The issue therefore remains a political and emotional minefield.

The family of Jean Charles De Menezes, who was unlawfully killed by the Metropolitan Police in the bungled Stockwell underground shooting in 2005 settled for £100,000 plus costs. However compensation payments for a whiplash injury can reach £15,000.

Moreover, the situation is complicated by the stated refusal of some relatives to countenance taking any financial award from the Ministry of Defence.

Already the family of William Nash, a 19 year-old civil rights marcher killed that day, have rejected any notion of financial recompense. His sisters Kate and Linda Nash have described the MoD’s offer as “repulsive”, saying they will not accept payment “under any circumstances”. They instead want to see prosecutions brought in connection with their brother’s death.

In a neat twist, today’s Irish Times reports Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service is still wading through the Saville Report before making any final decision about whether any of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings should face prosecution:

It is understood that such is the volume of material and the complexity of the issues that it will be some time before the PPS is in a position to rule on whether any of the soldiers will be prosecuted.

The Report found all those shot on the day were entirely innocent and apportioned blame for their deaths at the feet of the soldiers. Prime minister David Cameron memorably described what had happened as “unjustified and unjustifiable” in a well-pitched statement in the House of Commons. At the time, he avoided commenting on whether charges should be brought in case this prejudiced subsequent criminal or civil action.

Among his damning conclusions, Lord Saville found soldiers:

“…knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.”

This may open them up to perjury charges.

A great deal of good work has been done by successive governments, first in commissioning the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, then in allowing Lord Saville to deliberate as he saw fit, and then, last June, in accepting his report wholesale. The government needs to proceed extremely cautiously in ensuring the trust that has been so assiduously built-up is not forfeited.

However, compensation amounts, who receives them, and whether anyone is ever charged in connection with the deaths and shootings are issues whose sensitivity remains immune from the passage of time.

Thirty nine years later, the echoes of that terrible high-veolcity rifle-fire continue to ring out.

See also:

Derry to be first British culture capitalKevin Meagher, July 16th 2010

The Saville Inquiry: what the media has to sayEd Jacobs, June 16th 2010

Ethos and Leadership failed Paras on Bloody SundayCapt. Patrick Bury, June 16th 2010

The Saville Report – an opportunity for reconciliationEd Jacobs, June 15th 2010

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry’s zero-sum equationKevin Meagher, June 11th 2010

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