Thursday, 17 June 2010

Bloody Sunday

In one sense for me to comment on the Bloody Sunday Saville Inquiry means going outside the purposes of this Blog however since the Northern Ireland conflict has been defined in large part by religious differences forming a toxic mixture with racial and political differences the issue is I suppose peripherally relevant so I will comment on the possibility of the Soldiers of Bloody Sunday being prosecuted.

Firstly there is no doubt that what happened on 30 January 1972 was grotesquely wrong and everyone knew that at the time, similarly the Widgery Report was a disgrace and, once again, everyone knew that at the time. The soldiers should have been tried 38 years ago but they were not and the question is should they now be charged 38 years on. In those 38 years there have been many dead bodies in the streets of Northern Ireland and from terrorism in Great Britain and there are many unsolved and unpunished murders from those years. There is now a political settlement which though unsatisfactory in many ways has brought a peace to Northern Ireland the price of that peace has had to include allowing convicted murderers to go free and allowing into government those who have terrorist pasts and who are undoubtedly responsible for terrible murders and maimings in that past. An inevitable consequence of this peace process is that many of the dead of the past will not be given justice but the living of the present have been given peace. There is a trade off here which needs to be applied to the events of Bloody Sunday as much as to any of the other killings of the 30 years of conflict

Most of the discussion on the question of prosecuting the paratroopers of Bloody Sunday seems to concentrate on whether prosecutions should be brought and little attention seemed to have been paid to the question "Would Prosecutions Succeed ?" Merely because Lord Saville has reached the conclusions he has "on a balance of probabilities" after an extensive inquiry does not mean that another Judge and a Jury would reach the same conclusions "beyond reasonable doubt" in the much more exacting evidential framework of a Criminal Trial. The conclusions of the Saville inquiry do not constitute evidence for a Criminal Trial and the witnesses who gave evidence to Saville would have to give their evidence again in a Criminal Trial which could quite possibly lead to verdicts of Not Guilty. Where would that leave both the Peace process and the findings of the Saville inquiry ?

I know it has been suggested that instead of prosecutions for murder the soldiers could be prosecuted for perjury because Lord Saville said he believed they had given false evidence however a prosecution for perjury is even less likely to succeed than a prosecution for Murder because in order to establish that a paratrooper lied on oath the prosecution would have to prove what the truth was. In any event trying to prosecute someone for giving deliberately false evidence about something that occurred 38 years ago is problematic in the extreme. Even if their evidence could be shown to be wrong is it a deliberate lie or the simple fallibility of human memory ?

Also a prosecution for perjury does raise the issue of Martin McGuinness because Lord Saville clearly did not believe Mr McGuinness when he denied having a machine gun on the day. The idea of Mr McGuinness and paratroopers sharing the same dock is amusing but not realistic however if there are to be prosecutions for perjury rather than murder then the position re Mr McGuinness cannot be ignored

Finally any prosecution for perjury would have to take place in England and not in Northern Ireland because the Paratroopers gave their sworn evidence in London-England and not in London-Derry. I doubt if an English Jury would rush to convict. People in mainland Britain have accepted the release of convicted IRA etc killers as part of the peace process but if there were to be prosecutions of soldiers sent to Northern Ireland then that could be seen as double standards.

Personally I think Northern Ireland would have benefited from a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than the Saville Inquiry but now that the inquiry has finally issued its report I hope that it may provide an end to Northern Ireland looking always at its past when it should instead be looking to the future

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