Widgery Accomplice

Anthony McIntyre writes about the British Public Prosecution Service extinguishing the hopes of those seeking prosecutions of British state killers. 

The Public Prosecution Service in the North has been a wholesale disappointment to those families and friends of the Bloody Sunday dead. They had placed their hopes in prosecutions as a means to address the problems thrown up by the North's politically violent past. Earlier this week, those hopes were hit a contemptuous slap in the face.

The ghost of Widgery is merrily tipping its top hat to the gargantuan efforts of the PPS to filter all but one killer through the escape hatch and beyond the reach of the courts. Widgery, for long alone in the trade of whitewashing Bloody Sunday, now has an accomplice in crime.

While a prosecutorial strategy as a mechanism for addressing the North’s legacy issues is deficient for a host of reasons, that is ostensibly not the stance adopted by the PPS. Just as barbers will refrain from telling customers they do not need haircuts, the prosecutors of the PPS will avoid telling victims of violence they do not need prosecutions. It is their job to prosecute, and in Bloody Sunday they failed miserably. The length of time it took them to finally make the formal decision, long politically agreed, not to prosecute all but one of the government gunmen suggests they had hoped Soldier F, Dave to those who know him personally, might have popped his clogs by now.

The decision to prosecute only one of the Derry killers was not even a rolling over in the face of the Tory and British military lobby: the intent was never there for the state to find against itself.

The conservative writer Douglas Murray sat through the Saville Inquiry and claimed:
having watched all of the Bloody Sunday shooters testify, I can say with certainty that they include not only unapologetic killers, but unrelenting liars.
Trooper Dave, who killed at least four of those massacred on the day and "started lying from the moment the shooting stopped " was in some senses an easy target. To Murray, it always seemed "that if anyone was deserving of prosecution, then it was him."

Thrown to the wolves for now, Trooper Dave will in all likelihood be rescued by the judicial cavalry down the line. His solitary prosecution is an unmitigated abdication of responsibility on the part of the PPS to the society on whose behalf it is meant to prosecute. The pill is probably all the more bitter to swallow given that nationalists were told to expect a more even handed approach from state agencies in the sphere of justice, unwisely advised to place their faith in Barra McGrory landing the post of chief British prosecutor in the North, and who has since retired.

McGrory brought a big hat but no cattle to the task. He failed to initiate any substantive change to the office when he took on the job. He was never in any doubt that British state strategy on legacy matters was not about making bringing security force personnel legally and judicially accountable. Even the much vaunted Kenova inquiry was designed, in his words, to leave the IRA with "most to fear from the Stakeknife investigation."

As such, the Bloody Sunday prosecution debacle portends poorly for those placing their faith in Operation Kenova - launched on McGrory's watch - as a mechanism for producing closure in the cases of victims of Stakeknife and the state, as bad also for the massacred of Ballymurphy.

The PPS could not find the evidence to prosecute more than one Bloody Sunday killer but seemed to have no problem bringing prosecution and securing a conviction in the case of Seamus Kearney, where the evidence was arguably much more tenuous.

The barrister and columnist Noel Whelan pays attention to none of this when contending:
In terms of criminal law, the argument set out by the PPS are compelling, although that will come as little comfort to the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday.
To buy into that, the observer would need to ignore Eamonn McCann's terse observation:
For all the raging controversy it has provoked for almost half a century, the Bloody Sunday case is pretty straight-forward: hundreds of people witnessed men with guns killing people without guns in broad daylight. In essence, that’s it.
Noel Whelan's Irish Times fellow columnist Fintan O'Toole, writing in 2005, spoke of "a modern democracy where the State will stand up for the citizens." If the Dublin government stakes any claim to govern such a democracy it would stand up for the citizens of Derry, Irish citizens, by demanding, if only for hugely symbolic reasons, the extradition of the men who massacred so many of them on Bloody Sunday. 

Even though it claims to believe in prosecutions as a means to tackling the legacy challenge, it will squirm rather than stand. 


  1. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. Think you've nailed it though Anthony. I can't see Soldier F being prosecuted as it would create rucktions in the ranks of the British Army and the Unionists would go berzerk. They will play the long game, wait for the relevant few to drop off their perch. Regardless, the Para's are the absolute worst troops you can drop into an civilian area. It was like putting a starving Pitbull into a chicken coop.

    1. The Royal Marines were pretty bad too. This is a global problem; elite "assault troops" should never be used in any area with a civilian population. The mass media glorify them, as they do Special Forces like the SAS, who were also dreadful - in fact, murderous - when deployed in Northern Ireland.

    2. Jeff,

      Very true. Probably would have been better if the police were confined to barracks and the Military Police took over. There would probably have been little conflict while they sorted out the nonsense.

  2. Spot on Anthony, besides this decision was made in London not by some mockney prosecuting authorities in North East Ireland.

  3. Great piece Anthony. I might add Saville to the list of those who participated in a cover-up. While Saville is infinitely superior to Widgery, much to the justifiable relief of the families, there remains much that's missing in Saville’s report. As Eamonn McCann, Niall O'Dochartaigh, Louis Blom-Cooper and David Blaazer have pointed out, Saville’s approach exonerated senior military and political decision-makers who should have been held to account. Saville’s legacy can be seen in the PPS’s consideration of only the soldiers on the ground.

  4. Thanks to all for the comments.

    Mike B - not sure but I see the point being made. I think Saville was as much as the campaign was going to squeeze out of the state. Pursuing it through prosecutions thereafter was always in my view going to allow the state to row back which it has done. I think it would have been better to have built on Saville in terms of truth recovery. Now the opportunity is there for the state to officially record that at most only one person unlawfully killed on Bloody Sunday. Even then the degree to which it was ruled unlawful will most likely be eroded even further by a verdict of something other than murder.