As British Soldier Finally Faces Murder Charges for Bloody Sunday, Victims’ Families Speak

By Brian Dooley

News that a former British soldier will finally face trial for some of the killings on Bloody Sunday has been greeted with relief in Derry, the city where the massacre happened.

Soldier F, as he is known for legal reasons, faces two charges of murder and five of attempted murder for his part in the attack on unarmed protestors when British paratroopers killed 13 people on the afternoon of January 30, 1972.

For decades, I have covered the twisting legal journey and search for justice undertaken by the relatives of the victims, interviewing those who lost loved ones and those who were shot but survived.

Human Rights First has a long history of working in Northern Ireland, and we are part of an international panel of experts soon to publish a report on the issue of state impunity during the conflict.

Soldier F is charged with the murders of Jim Wray and William McKinney. William’s brother Mickey said, “This development has been a long time in coming. Next month represents the 52nd anniversary of the events of Bloody Sunday. Witnesses are dying and becoming unavailable.”  He added that the prosecution needs to come to “a swift and successful conclusion.”

The McKinney and Wray families are just two of the hundreds of families who have spent exhausting years campaigning for accountability after British security forces killed their loved ones during the 1969-1998 conflict.

Many others had relatives killed by armed groups such as the IRA or the UVF. While those crimes were generally investigated and often punished, only a small handful of former British soldiers or police have ever faced trial.

For many families, the prospect of a day in court to face the killer of their loved ones is growing even more remote. A new British law closes virtually all avenues to bringing court cases against former soldiers and others who committed murders and other crimes during the conflict. The law also promises immunity to the guilty.

Some bereaved families are telling their sides of the story in a new film initiative called The Recorded Lived Experience-Impunity Project. An initiative of local human rights NGO the Pat Finucane Centre, the project features two dozen interviews with family members of those killed by British security forces during the conflict.

On last Sunday’s International Human Rights Day, I spoke at an event in Derry that officially opened a new installation at the Museum of Free Derry where the interviews are now available.

They are compelling testimonies. Included are interviews with the relatives of children Annette McGavigan (aged 14), Stephen McConomy (aged 11), and Paul Whitters (aged 15), all killed by soldiers or police officers who have never been convicted.

While the relatives’ stories are all different, there are common experiences. They have been lied to by the military and police about how their loved ones were killed, they were left with the responsibility of collecting evidence about what happened to their loved ones, and they spent decades facing frustrating delays and obstruction by the authorities.

Many recount the terrible damage the killings did to their families: how parents never recovered from what happened, how homes fell apart.

The new installation at the museum will be mobile and shown at other venues in Ireland and internationally. It is a powerful educational tool, a reminder that the legacy of the conflict is very much alive and unaddressed.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on December 18, 2023


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