HUNDREDS of people have turned out to demonstrate against the prosecution of British Soldier F over the Bloody Sunday Massacre.
Gavin Wragg, the organiser of the protest in central London today, branded it as “one of the crimes of the century”.
Dennis Hutchings, 78, is another former soldier facing trial for a killing during the Troubles, rode atop an armoured car during the march
Soldier F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the only person from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment ever to face trial for the deaths of 13 civil rights protesters and one passerby in Londonderry in January 1972 in what became known as Bloody Sunday.
He is charged with the murder of William McKinney, 27, and 22-year-old James Wray, and the attempted murder of four other men – Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
He faces a final charge of “attempted murder of a person or persons unknown”.
The Saville Report, an inquiry set up by Tony Blair in 1998 and which published its findings in 2010, also found Soldier F to have killed two other men – Bernard McGuigan, 41, and 31-year-old Patrick Doherty.
The inquiry found Mr Wray had been shot in the back while fleeing and that he was shot a second time as he lay dying, while Mr McKinney was also shot in the back.
Soldier F learned he was to be prosecuted in March of this year and the case is currently in its preliminary stages in Northern Ireland, and the decision by the Northern Irish authorities sparked outrage in Britain.
By 10.30am on Saturday morning around 500 people with flags and “support Soldier F” t-shirts had gathered in Trafalgar Square, with the march setting off for Westminster at midday.
Mr Wragg said: “I got more and more enraged by it and I made a Facebook video saying we need people to come together and show this is wrong because so many people don’t know.”
Mr Wragg, who served with the Royal Transport Corp for 10 years, has dubbed the movement “Operation Rolling Thunder” and a protest in April saw 11,000 people including several biker gangs take to the streets in London.
“It’s appeasement by the British government, it’s just to appease the IRA – we’ve got a peace process with Northern Ireland and all the terrorists were pardoned, they were all set free for the horrific crimes they committed.
“Now we are suddenly prosecuting only British soldiers.”
He added: “You either have a peace agreement for all or nobody.”
Mr Wragg, 56, said the protest was not targeted at the families of the victims but said the relatives of the British soldiers killed in Northern Ireland had also never received justice.
He said he believed in the right to peaceful protest but emphasised that shots had been fired at British troops during the build-up to the Bloody Sunday killings.
The Saville Report found that an “opportunistic” sniper shot had been fired at British soldiers by an IRA member at around 4pm, but no-one was hit and the bullet lodged in a drain pipe.
Stones and other projectiles were also found to have been thrown by rioters.
Mr Wragg said: “We understand the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland – they were innocent people – but to say five soldiers are to blame for everything, that’s just scapegoating.”
One 49-year-old former serviceman, who served in the Royal Signals, said: “I’m just showing support. Soldier F has been repeatedly found innocent – three times.
Timeline – how the Troubles unfolded
- August 1969: The British government deploys troops in Northern Ireland in a “limited operation” to restore law and order, following three days of violence in the Catholic Bogside area of Londonderry
- February 1971: Gunner Robert Curtis becomes the first British soldier to die when he is shot dead by the IRA
- January 30, 1972: On Bloody Sunday, the British Army shot and killed thirteen unarmed people during a civil rights march in Londonderry
- March 1972: The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by Westminster
- October 1974: Pubs are bombed in Guildford as the IRA expands its campaign to mainland Britain. A month later, there are more pub bombings in Birmingham, killing 21 people
- July 1976: British Ambassador to Ireland Christopher Ewart Biggs is murdered by a car bomb in Dublin
- October 1984: A bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher PM was staying during the Conservative Party conference
- November 1985: Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald, the Irish Taoiseach, sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, paving the way for co-operation between the two governments.
- November 1987: 11 civilians are killed by a Provisional IRA bomb at a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen
- April 1998: The Good Friday Agreement is signed, hailing the end of the Troubles
“Taking him to court again is disgusting.”
Another former soldier, who also asked not to be named, said: “It’s not just about one individual, it’s about many individuals and about the future.
“It’s not just about Northern Ireland but any conflict we’ve been involved in and could be involved in.”
The 47-year-old, who served in the army between 1990 and 1998, added: “Why should we, when we’re following orders, face prosecution?”
His friend, who served in Northern Ireland in the Navy in the 1990s, said: “What really gets me is that they’ve brought back Diplock courts – Soldier F is facing trial by a single judge without a jury and no-one should ever be tried without a jury.
“It’s a political thing rather than a justice thing. He’s been thrown to the wolves.”
The 58-year-old said: “The situation in Northern Ireland is never going to go away.
“I was born in Northern Ireland and my family are from there. It’s never going to go away.”
Soldier F, who is now in his 70s, was not present on the march and has chosen not to get involved in the movement.
However, 78-year-old Dennis Hutchings – another former soldier facing trial for a killing during the Troubles – was present, and rode atop an armoured car during the march down Whitehall.
Mr Hutchings is charged in connection with the death of 27-year-old John Patrick Cunningham, who was fatally shot in the back fleeing an army patrol in County Tyrone in 1974.
The former soldier, who served with the Life Guards, is accused of the attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm of Mr Cunningham, who suffered from learning difficulties.
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Police are reviewing all murder cases, considering opportunities for forensic evidence and availability of witnesses when deciding which to tackle first.
Detectives have said they do not prioritise military cases, which account for approximately 30% of workload, but at least six former military personnel have been prosecuted in recent years.
Of 26 prosecution cases were brought since 2011 involving legacy issues, 21 involved republican and loyalist paramilitaries, recent research showed.
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