The prosecution of two former soldiers over three deaths during Northern Ireland‘s Troubles have been halted.

Soldier F was being prosecuted for the murder of two men, James Wray and William McKinney, shot during a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Soldier B, meanwhile, was to be prosecuted for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in the city six months later.

The families of the victims were informed of the decisions during meetings on Derry on Friday morning.

It comes after a review of evidence in the cases.

These reviews follow a recent court ruling that caused the collapse of another Troubles murder trial involving two military veterans. 

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who resigned as a defence minister over the treatment of veterans who served in Northern Ireland, said he had sympathy with the families, but said it was difficult to progress prosecutions after so many years.

He told the BBC: ‘I don’t think that you can have prosecutions of sufficient integrity that will stick 40/50 years later after these events and I feel very strongly that Government has failed veterans of that conflict.

‘But, it is not one-sided, I have a huge amount of sympathy for the families.’

Pictured: James Wray

Pictured: James Wray

Pictured: William McKinney

Pictured: William McKinney

Soldier F was accused of murdering James Wray (left) and William McKinney (right) on January 30, 1972, when British troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside area of Derry, killing a total of 13 people

Soldier B, meanwhile, was to be prosecuted for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in the city six months later

Soldier B, meanwhile, was to be prosecuted for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in the city six months later

Soldier B, meanwhile, was to be prosecuted for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty in the city six months later

The veterans were formally acquitted of the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann after prosecutors offered no further evidence at Belfast Crown Court.

It came after previous statements the two men had given years ago were ruled inadmissible, collapsing the case.

Soldier F, an ex-paratrooper, was accused of murdering Mr Wray and Mr McKinney on Bloody Sunday on January 30 1972, when troops opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Derry’s Bogside, killing 13 people.

He also stood accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. He faced a further supporting charge of the attempted murder of a person or persons unknown on the day.

The case against him had reached the stage of a committal hearing at Derry Magistrates’ Court to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

In the case of Soldier B, the PPS had announced in 2019 an intention to prosecute him for the murder of Daniel and the wounding with intent of his cousin Christopher Hegarty, then aged 16.

The shooting happened during Operation Motorman – an Army attempt to wrest control of no-go areas of Derry from the grip of the IRA.

Daniel and Christopher, who had gone to watch the military operation, were shot after encountering an Army patrol in the Creggan area in the early hours of July 31, 1972.

The PPS had not yet got to the stage of issuing summons to formally commence the prosecution of Soldier B – a delay caused by the veteran’s unsuccessful High Court bid to challenge the move to bring charges against him.

His planned prosecution will now no longer proceed.

He faced a seventh supporting charge of the attempted murder of a person or persons unknown on the day. 

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was a ‘bad day for justice’.

‘We will continue to stand by the Bloody Sunday and Hegarty families,’ she tweeted.

Nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland have described the decision as ‘devastating’ for the victims’ families. 

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the decision was ‘bitterly disappointing’ and has raised concerns about the way families have been treated.

Mr Eastwood said: ‘This is devastating news.

The family of William McKinney, who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, John (second left) and Mickey (second right), walk in with solicitors, brothers, Fearghal and Ciaran Shiels, as they arrive at the City Hotel in Londonderry, for a meeting with the Public Prosecution Service

The family of William McKinney, who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, John (second left) and Mickey (second right), walk in with solicitors, brothers, Fearghal and Ciaran Shiels, as they arrive at the City Hotel in Londonderry, for a meeting with the Public Prosecution Service

The family of William McKinney, who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, John (second left) and Mickey (second right), walk in with solicitors, brothers, Fearghal and Ciaran Shiels, as they arrive at the City Hotel in Londonderry, for a meeting with the Public Prosecution Service

The family of Liam Wray who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, (left to right) Margaret Wray, unidentified man, Doreen and Liam, in Londonderry today

The family of Liam Wray who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, (left to right) Margaret Wray, unidentified man, Doreen and Liam, in Londonderry today

The family of Liam Wray who was killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry on January 30 1972, (left to right) Margaret Wray, unidentified man, Doreen and Liam, in Londonderry today

‘Devastating for the Bloody Sunday families and the family of Daniel Hegarty who have placed their faith in process after process only to be let down badly as they seek justice and accountability for the murder of their loved ones.

‘It is galling that these cases appear to have collapsed because the British Army’s historical investigation process was so deficient that the evidence collected is considered to be inadmissible.

‘These families are now in a position where their loved ones were killed by members of the British Army and their prosecutions have been discontinued because of the conduct of the British Army.

‘It is totally unjust.’

Mr Eastwood added: ‘The Bloody Sunday Families and Daniel Hegarty’s family have been through worse days than this and they have marched on with dignity, decency and pride.

‘The people of Derry have stood with them on every step of their long march toward justice, we’re with them today and we’ll be with them until the end.’ 

Soldier F had been granted anonymity ahead of his trial.  

While not exactly the same, the evidence against the former soldiers was of a similar nature to that ruled inadmissible in the Joe McCann trial. 

Following receipt of Justice O’Hara’s detailed written judgment, the PPS initiated formal reviews of the cases. 

The PPS is under an ongoing obligation to keep prosecutorial decisions under review to account for changing circumstances.

While the PPS has long acknowledged that free-standing Royal Military Police statements given by soldiers could not be used in evidence against them, in the Bloody Sunday case the PPS was attempting to use RMP statements given by other soldiers in the Bogside that day.

They were going to try to use the accounts of Soldiers H and G as hearsay evidence that Soldier F was in the area and had fired shots at the civil rights demonstrators.  

They were going to ask the court to rely on the aspects of Soldiers H and G’s statement that claimed Soldier F was firing in Glenfada Park North when the victims were shot. 

Without that evidence, the PPS had no way of proving that basic, but absolutely crucial, fact.

The ex-paratrooper was also accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. Pictured: Youths confront British soldiers before paratroopers opened fire on Bloody Sunday

The ex-paratrooper was also accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. Pictured: Youths confront British soldiers before paratroopers opened fire on Bloody Sunday

The ex-paratrooper was also accused of the attempted murders of Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn. Pictured: Youths confront British soldiers before paratroopers opened fire on Bloody Sunday

A pivotal piece of evidence in this case related to a statement Soldier B gave to the HET in 2006. 

In it, he admitted to firing the shots that hit Daniel and his cousin Christopher. 

He had also given a statement to the RMP in 1972 but prosecutors accepted that would have been inadmissible.

The 2006 HET statement was therefore the only evidence that could be used to identify Soldier B as the person who fired the shots. The PPS review concluded that deficiencies identified by Justice O’Hara in relation to the HET evidence in the Joe McCann case were also relevant to the 2006 statement in the Hagerty case.

With the prospect of that being ruled inadmissible as well, the Crown case against Soldier B fell away.

A total of 13 people were killed and 15 wounded when members of the Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on demonstrators on Sunday January 30 1972.

It was one of the catalysts for the Northern Ireland conflict which lasted for decades and cost thousands of lives.

Joe McCann, 24, was shot dead as he ran from police and Army in Belfast in 1972 

His trial collapsed in May after a judge said statements made by the men could not be used against them.

Mr Justice O’Hara had earlier described as ‘remarkable’ the fact the ex-soldiers had been prosecuted for 24-year-old McCann’s murder on the basis of a report by a police legacy unit, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), and not as a result of a follow-up criminal investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). 

This was despite the HET telling the court – which was sitting without a jury over tamper fears – it did not think there was any evidence to reopen the case. 

Philip Barden, a senior partner at Devonshires who represents the soldiers, called for an urgent independent review of the approach taken by the PPS in the case, including their decision to prosecute.

He said: ‘It is extraordinary that one of the first cases following the work of the HET to come to trial was that of a man who lived by the gun and who shot and killed at will.

Joe McCann, pictured above, 24, was shot dead by soldiers in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972 while dressed in disguise as he attempted to evade arrest at the hands of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers

Joe McCann, pictured above, 24, was shot dead by soldiers in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972 while dressed in disguise as he attempted to evade arrest at the hands of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers

Joe McCann, pictured above, 24, was shot dead by soldiers in the Markets area of Belfast in 1972 while dressed in disguise as he attempted to evade arrest at the hands of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers

‘McCann and men like him caused the very violence which led to so many innocent people dying, yet their families are in the queue for justice behind him. This is not justice or fairness.

‘Morally this is indefensible and a strong indication that there is a desire to use the criminal justice system to settle old scores. How was it that Joe McCann’s death became a priority before the Public Prosecution Service?

‘The stress of these proceedings on the soldiers and their families cannot be underestimated.

‘This is a prosecution that should never have got off the ground.’ 

News of the acquittal was hailed by MP Johnny Mercer and first Veterans Commissioner for Northern Ireland Danny Kinahan.

Mr Mercer said: ”Not guilty’ Should never have happened. Hopefully this marks the lowest point in this Nation’s treatment of her Veterans. Government must act.’

Mr Kinahan said: ‘I welcome that soldiers A&C were found not guilty. It should never have got to this stage.

‘I pay tribute to the two veterans and their families for the dignity and fortitude they have shown. I hope they will be allowed to get on with their lives in peace.’

What caused the prosecutions of British military veterans to collapse? 

An admissibility ruling by a judge in the trial of two former soldiers accused of a Troubles murder triggered a chain of events that has led to the halting of two further legacy cases in Northern Ireland, including the only prosecution ever mounted over the notorious Bloody Sunday killings of 1972.

Here is an explanation of why the controversial prosecutions have unravelled.   

What happened in the trial of Joe McCann?

Soldiers A and C, both former paratroopers, went on trial in April accused of murdering the 24-year-old Official IRA leader who was shot dead by soldiers as he attempted to evade arrest by a plain-clothed police officer in the Markets Area of Belfast in April 1972.

The trial before Mr Justice O’Hara opened at Belfast Crown Court and heard a full day of evidence.

It then moved into a separate voir dire hearing to determine whether statements and interviews given by the ex-soldiers, who are now in their 70s, would be admissible as evidence.

The voir dire heard that the evidence implicating the defendants came from two sources.

The first was statements they made to the Royal Military Police in 1972 and the second was statements and interview answers they gave to a police legacy unit, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), in 2010.

In an unequivocal ruling, Mr Justice O’Hara found none of the evidence should be admitted to the trial, highlighting a series of deficiencies in the reliability of both the RMP and HET material.

With the Crown case hinging on the evidence no longer admissible at trial, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) could not proceed without it. Having determined there were insufficient grounds to appeal against the judge’s ruling, prosecutors formally offered no further evidence and the soldiers were duly acquitted.

Why was the RMP evidence ruled unreliable?

This was due to a series of failings in the RMP process. The controversial practice of the military investigating its own actions in Northern Ireland was discontinued in 1973 amid concerns it was designed to ensure soldiers were protected from questioning by police so they could avoid prosecution.

Judge O’Hara branded the RMP procedure an ‘appalling practice’ that denied the soldiers a series of basic legal safeguards. They were not interviewed under caution, they were not given access to legal representation, they were compelled to make the statements and the soldiers were not given an opportunity to explain why they had taken the actions they did. The circumstances amounted to ‘oppression’, rendering any confession made as unreliable in a court of law.

What about the HET evidence?

The PPS accepted the inadmissibility of the RMP statements, in isolation, from the outset. However, prosecutors argued the information in the 1972 statements became admissible because they were adopted and accepted by the defendants during their engagement with the HET in March 2010.

Justice O’Hara not only dismissed that contention, claiming it was not tenable to put the 1972 evidence before the court ‘dressed up and freshened up with a new 2010 cover’, but he also raised concerns about the HET process itself.

He questioned whether the HET’s role was to conduct criminal probes or to fact-find to bring resolution and answers for bereaved families.

As such, the judge said there was ambiguity why former soldiers were being asked to participate in the process. Justice O’Hara said if evidence of criminal wrongdoing emerged in the HET process that should have been subjected to a formal investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, rather than being used as a basis to mount a prosecution.

He noted that when Soldiers A and C were interviewed under caution by the HET, neither veteran was informed what criminal offence they were suspected of before they faced questions. 

Why does the McCann judgment affect the prosecutions against Soldier F and Soldier B? 

While not exactly the same, the evidence against the former soldiers was of a similar nature to that ruled inadmissible in the Joe McCann trial. 

Following receipt of Justice O’Hara’s detailed written judgment, the PPS initiated formal reviews of the cases. 

The PPS is under an ongoing obligation to keep prosecutorial decisions under review to account for changing circumstances.

Soldier F/Bloody Sunday:

While the PPS has long acknowledged that free-standing RMP statements given by soldiers could not be used in evidence against them, in the Bloody Sunday case the PPS was attempting to use RMP statements given by other soldiers in the Bogside that day.

They were going to try to use the accounts of Soldiers H and G as hearsay evidence that Soldier F was in the area and had fired shots at the civil rights demonstrators. They believed the issues around oppression were not as compelling when dealing with statements that were not considered direct confessions to criminality.

They were going to ask the court to rely on the aspects of Soldiers H and G’s statement that claimed Soldier F was firing in Glenfada Park North when the victims were shot. Without that evidence, the PPS had no way of proving that basic, but absolutely crucial, fact.

Soldier B/Daniel Hegarty:

A pivotal piece of evidence in this case related to a statement Soldier B gave to the HET in 2006. In it, he admitted to firing the shots that hit Daniel and his cousin Christopher. He had also given a statement to the RMP in 1972 but prosecutors accepted that would have been inadmissible.

The 2006 HET statement was therefore the only evidence that could be used to identify Soldier B as the person who fired the shots. The PPS review concluded that deficiencies identified by Justice O’Hara in relation to the HET evidence in the Joe McCann case were also relevant to the 2006 statement in the Hagerty case.

With the prospect of that being ruled inadmissible as well, the Crown case against Soldier B fell away.

Is there any prospect of these decisions being revisited?

The families can attempt to challenge the PPS decisions by way of judicial review in the High Court.

The family of Daniel Hegarty successfully challenged a previous non-prosecution decision against Soldier B. On Friday, a lawyer for the Hegarty family called on the police to obtain a fresh statement from Soldier B – something they said could enable the prosecution to continue.

The McKinney family made clear on Friday that they would be pursuing judicial review proceedings.

The Wray family indicated that they would not be taking further legal action, but would support other families who pursue that avenue.

The families of other victims of Bloody Sunday are currently taking action against the PPS for its decision to not mount prosecutions over the killings of their loved ones.

What about other legacy cases against former soldiers?

The Bloody Sunday and Daniel Hegarty cases are two of seven currently within Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system.

In four of the cases, decisions to prosecute had already been taken, while prosecutors are assessing the evidence in the other three cases ahead of issuing prosecutorial decisions.

All seven have been looked at again following the O’Hara ruling. Formal reviews were deemed necessary in the Soldier F and Soldier B cases – an exercise that led to the decisions to halt the proceedings.

It was quickly established that the other two live prosecutions do not rely on the type of evidence deemed inadmissible in the Joe McCann case and those prosecutions are therefore proceeding.

Those are the cases of Dennis Hutchings, who is accused of the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974, and David Jonathan Holden, who is accused of manslaughter by gross negligence in relation to the 1988 shooting of Aidan McAnespie at a checkpoint close to the Irish border.

The other three cases – two involving the Army’s Military Reaction Force and the other a fatal shooting at a Cookstown hotel in 1980 – remain under consideration, with prosecutorial decisions not understood to be imminent. The findings of Judge O’Hara will be factored into those deliberations as prosecutors consider whether the test of prosecution has been met in each.

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