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Colonel in charge of British troops on Bloody Sunday slams the 'betrayal' of his soldiers



Colonel in charge of British troops on Bloody Sunday slams the 'betrayal' of his soldiers as 17 veterans wait to find out today if they will face charges over 1972 shootings

  • 13 civilians were killed during riots on the Bogside estate in Londonderry in 1972
  • Seventeen British former soldiers will today find out if they face criminal charges
  • There is anger at the perceived betrayal of soldiers who served in the Troubles
  • Parachute Regiment commander from the day says he is angry at authorities 

By Richard Spillett for MailOnline and Glen Keogh For The Daily Mail

Published: 05:01 EDT, 14 March 2019 | Updated: 05:23 EDT, 14 March 2019

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The officer who was in charge of British troops on Bloody Sunday has hit out at the possibility that his men will be dragged into court nearly 50 years on.

Seventeen former soldiers, who are now in their 60s and 70s, will learn today whether they face criminal charges over the killing of 13 civilians in Londonderry in 1972.

Former members of the support company of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment are facing possible charges of murder, attempted murder and causing grievous injury with intent.

But there has been an outcry over the prospect of military veterans being prosecuted for their roles in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. 

Many are angry that British troops face court action while IRA fugitives were sent so-called 'comfort letters', assuring them they were no longer being hunted by the police.

Lt-Col Derek Wilford, the commander on the day, said today that he and his men feel 'betrayed' and that he is 'very angry' at their treatment by authorities.

A photo from January 30 1972 shows demonstrators facing off with British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday
A photo from January 30 1972 shows demonstrators facing off with British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday

A photo from January 30 1972 shows demonstrators facing off with British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 civilians on what became known as Bloody Sunday

British troops search civilians on the day of the Bloody Sunday massacre, January 30, 1972
British troops search civilians on the day of the Bloody Sunday massacre, January 30, 1972

British troops search civilians on the day of the Bloody Sunday massacre, January 30, 1972

The now-86-year-old told The Daily Telegraph: 'I maintain the fact that there was fire and we were part of it. These people on the barricades were out to kill us. You don't need to be a soldier to realise that's what was happening.

'That is why now I have no sympathy with the other side. My sympathy lies with my soldiers, who day after day were obliged to go out into the wilderness of hostility.'

He said he accepted that what happened was bad and he is sorry for what took place, but does not regret what his soldiers did. 

British troops had been sent into the Bogside nationalist housing estate to deal with riots which followed a march, held in defiance of a ban on public processions.

As well as the 13 who died, a total of 15 others were shot and injured. One of the injured died months later from an inoperable tumour and some consider him the 14th fatality.

In 2010, an inquiry by Lord Saville found that those killed were innocent and posed no threat. The soldiers claimed they fired in retaliation after coming under attack from IRA gunmen.

Police began the criminal probe in the wake of the 12-year, £200million inquiry led by Lord Saville, which concluded in 2010. Soldiers are angry that the inquiry, which was set up only to determine what happened, was now being used to mount potential criminal cases
Police began the criminal probe in the wake of the 12-year, £200million inquiry led by Lord Saville, which concluded in 2010. Soldiers are angry that the inquiry, which was set up only to determine what happened, was now being used to mount potential criminal cases

Police began the criminal probe in the wake of the 12-year, £200million inquiry led by Lord Saville, which concluded in 2010. Soldiers are angry that the inquiry, which was set up only to determine what happened, was now being used to mount potential criminal cases

Pictured: The aftermath of the incident. Eighteen former paratroopers were under investigation, but one died last year
Pictured: The aftermath of the incident. Eighteen former paratroopers were under investigation, but one died last year

Pictured: The aftermath of the incident. Eighteen former paratroopers were under investigation, but one died last year

Soldiers now facing possible prosecution are angry that the inquiry is now being used against them.

One former soldier said: 'We were made to give evidence to the Saville inquiry. We weren't hiding from anyone. But we were told statements given to the inquiry couldn't be used in prosecutions. 

'The next thing we know, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) are saying they are deciding on prosecutions. 

'At the time of the inquiry, families were saying they were not interested in prison sentences for soldiers. Now they are saying they want life sentences.'

Evidence given to the Bloody Sunday inquiry is not admissible in any potential criminal prosecutions under terms agreed when it was launched in 1998. 

But soldiers say there would have been no prospect of prosecutions without it. 

The mural depicting those who lost their lives on Bloody Sunday in Rossville Street
The mural depicting those who lost their lives on Bloody Sunday in Rossville Street

The mural depicting those who lost their lives on Bloody Sunday in Rossville Street

A 1998 photograph of Lord Saville of Newdigate chairing the Bloody Sunday inquiry
A 1998 photograph of Lord Saville of Newdigate chairing the Bloody Sunday inquiry

A 1998 photograph of Lord Saville of Newdigate chairing the Bloody Sunday inquiry

An investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) followed the £195 million inquiry and files on 18 soldiers were submitted to prosecutors in 2016 and 2017 for consideration. One former soldier has since died.

Four other soldiers included in the Saville Report died before police had completed their investigation.

A decision is also due to be taken today by the PPS as to whether to charge two Official IRA suspects present on the day.

Papers before prosecutors included 668 witness statements and numerous photos, video and audio evidence. 

A timeline of Bloody Sunday and the Troubles in Northern Ireland 

August 1969 - British Government first send troops into Northern Ireland to restore order after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.

30 January 1972 - On 'Bloody Sunday' 13 civilians are shot dead by the British Army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.

March 1972 - The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by London.

1970s - The IRA begin its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain.

British troops in Northern Ireland during the Troubles which began in the late 1960s and lasted until 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
British troops in Northern Ireland during the Troubles which began in the late 1960s and lasted until 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement

British troops in Northern Ireland during the Troubles which began in the late 1960s and lasted until 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement

April 1981 - Bobby Sands, a republicans on hunger strike in the Maze prison, is elected to Parliament. He dies a month later.

October 1984 - An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party conference.

Early 1990s - Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communications was so secret most ministers did not know about it.

April 1998 - Tony Blair helps to broker the Good Friday Agreement, which is hailed as the end of the Troubles. It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as its first minister.

Norman Tebbit, a Conservative cabinet minister at the time, is carried from the wreckage of Brighton's Grand Hotel following the IRA bomb in 1984
Norman Tebbit, a Conservative cabinet minister at the time, is carried from the wreckage of Brighton's Grand Hotel following the IRA bomb in 1984

Norman Tebbit, a Conservative cabinet minister at the time, is carried from the wreckage of Brighton's Grand Hotel following the IRA bomb in 1984

2000s - With some exceptions the peace process holds and republican and loyalist paramilitaries decommission their weapons 

2010 - The Saville Report exonerates the civilians who were killed on Bloody Sunday leading to a formal apology from then Prime Minister David Cameron to the families. 

2019 - Prosecutors announce whether to brig charges against the 17 surviving Paras who fired shots that day.

 

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