I CANNOT ‘STAND WITH SOLDIER F!’

I STAND WITH THE BRAVE SOLDIERS WHO HAVE TOLD THE TRUTH AND GIVEN EVIDENCE AGAINST SOLDIER F!

I ALSO STAND WITH THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION!

INTRODUCTION

As I like to make myself knowledgeable (and as the issue of the prosecution of ‘Soldier F’ has become a politicised one), I have spent considerable time researching the facts surrounding the events of Bloody Sunday. For those unaware of the basic details, here is an introduction from Wikipedia:

“Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre, was an incident on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a protest march against internment (imprisonment without trial). 14 people died: 13 were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers and some were shot while trying to help the wounded.

Two investigations were held by the British government. The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame. It described the soldiers’ shooting as ‘bordering on the reckless’, but accepted their claims that they shot at gunmen and bomb-throwers. The report was widely criticised as a ‘whitewash’.

The Saville Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the incident. Following a 12-year inquiry, Saville’s report was made public in 2010 and concluded that the killings were both ‘unjustified’ and ‘unjustifiable’. It found that all of those shot were unarmed, that none were posing a serious threat, that no bombs were thrown, and that soldiers ‘knowingly put forward false accounts’ to justify their firing.”

The 5,000-page Saville report is based on evidence from 921 witnesses, 2,500 written statements and 60 volumes of written evidence.

SAVILLE INQUIRY FINDINGS

After a 12-year Inquiry, The Saville Report determined that “No warnings were given prior to soldiers opening fire”, that “None of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting” and that “the soldiers fired because they lost control… forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training…. and acted with a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”.

Saville concluded that Soldier F and others had lied to both the Tribunal and the Inquiry: “Apart from Private T, many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.”

The Saville inquiry found that Lance Corporal F (‘Soldier F’) killed Patrick Doherty, Michael Kelly, Bernard McGuigan and probably also William McKinney and James Wray.

The report says: “Lance Corporal F did not fire in a state of fear or panic. We are sure that he fired either in the belief that no-one in the area into which he fired was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there was posing such a threat.”

The Inquiry determined that “there was ‘no doubt’ (31-year-old) Patrick Doherty was shot by Soldier F, who changed his story over the years.” It also stated that Patrick Doherty was unarmed and “certainly hit from behind whilst crawling or crouching because the bullet entered his buttock and proceeded through his body almost parallel to the spine.”

The Inquiry determined that Soldier F then killed the 41-year-old unarmed Bernard McGuigan as he went to the aid of Doherty: “He was shot as he went to the aid of Patrick Doherty. Mr McGuigan was waving a white handkerchief as a single bullet struck the back of his head.” It exited through his eye.

The Inquiry determined that Soldier F also shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Kelly who was behind a rubble barricade in Rossville Street 80 yards away, despite him being unarmed and not posing a serious threat.

As well as the three detailed above, the Report found that it was ‘highly probable’ that Soldier F also killed McKinney and Wray and that he also shot and wounded six other unarmed people: Patrick Campbell, Daniel McGowan. Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

The Inquiry determined that Soldier F lied to his commanding officers about the discharging of his weapon, that he lied to the Royal Military Police, that he lied to the Widgery Tribunal and that he lied to the Saville Inquiry! Here are two examples: the Report stated that Soldier F “initially concealed any firing into Sector 5 (where Doherty and McGuigan were killed) at all, then made up a false account of firing at a man armed with (or armed and firing) a pistol, and continued to conceal that he had fired more than two rounds into Sector 5” and “Initially, Lance Corporal F said nothing about this shot (the shot that killed Michael Kelly) but later he admitted that he had fired, falsely claiming that this was at a nail bomber.”

WITNESSES

A considerable number of soldiers and ex-soldiers gave evidence to the Inquiry. Despite the false and inconsistent accounts given by some, a considerable number bravely told the truth at considerable potential personal and professional cost. One of the ex-paratroopers who gave evidence to the Saville inquiry has been living under a witness protection programme for 20 years due to threats and fear that he is at risk of attack by some of his former colleagues.

The man, known as Soldier 027, told the inquiry that soldiers in his company had been encouraged to “get some kills” the night before Bloody Sunday! He stated: “I had the distinct impression that this was a case of some soldiers realising this was an opportunity to fire their weapon and they didn’t want to miss the chance…. Unspeakable acts took place on Bloody Sunday. There was no justification for a single shot I saw fired.”

SINCE THE SAVILLE REPORT

In June 2010, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron gave a statement in the House of Commons in which he apologised. In it, he said: “We do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.

It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the Government – indeed, on behalf of our country – I am deeply sorry.”

After many years of further consideration regarding the bringing of charges against any of the soldiers involved, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Ireland decided that charges could not be brought against 16 of the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday (as the evidence did not meet their threshold for the likelihood of a successful prosecution). However, they determined that the evidence was sufficient to prosecute Soldier F for the murder of two people and the attempted murder of four others. The trail has begun and is expected to last for some time.

THE POLITICISED BIT

Jeremy Corbyn has been asked whether he supports the prosecution of Soldier F. He has stated that he does. In other words, he was asked if he agrees with the upholding of the Law in the UK as determined by the PPS in conjunction with our own CPS! Corbyn has been castigated for this and this is one of the reasons for the numerous “I Stand with Soldier F” memes on Facebook and the belief that Corbyn is ‘anti British Forces’. In reality, Corbyn has set out an unparalleled manifesto policy in support of our Forces based around five pledges:

1. FAIR PAY – scrap the public sector pay cap, which has seen a 5.8% real terms pay cut for the starting salary of an Army Private since 2010

2. DECENT HOUSING FOR FORCES AND THEIR FAMILIES – end the growing reliance on the private rented sector

3. A VOICE FOR SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN – consult on creating a representative body, similar to the Police Federation

4. END PRIVATISATION – root and branch review of outsourcing and a clear presumption in favour of public delivery of public contracts

5. SUPPORT FOR FORCES CHILDREN – Better access to schools with dedicated local authorities admissions strategy for the particular challenge of frequent school moves

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has not given a view on the prosecution of Soldier F. Instead, he has said that investigation of veterans should be prevented unless there was “compelling evidence” that offences had been committed…. which, in the case of Soldier F, rather suggests he is in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn!!

THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION’S POSITION

The Royal British legion has sent a letter to the families of the Bloody Sunday victims expressing concern that its name has been used on banners erected in support of Soldier F. The letter, signed by the Director General of the Royal British Legion, Charles Byrne, reads: “We wish to emphasise in the strongest possible terms, our disavowal of this misappropriation of our name. We have not, and would not, authorise such use, and, furthermore, we have taken no stance in the matter of Soldier F. Our position is that the rule of law should prevail.”

CONCERNS OF SERVING FORCES PERSONNEL

I fully understand that current serving Armed Forces personnel are concerned. Sometimes, they are put into dangerous situations and ones in which they may need to discharge their weapon. They do not want to spend the rest of their lives worrying that they might be prosecuted over this many years later. That is, of course, an understandable and legitimate concern.

My understanding is that there are procedures in place to report, record and properly account for any discharge of a weapon. It is clear that Soldier F not only unlawfully shot and killed or injured several unarmed people, but that he then lied about his actions to his superiors and then lied and changed his story throughout the subsequent investigations.

It is my belief that, as long as serving Armed Forces personnel do not kill numerous unarmed civilians and then lie about it, they should rightly have no concerns about future prosecution – irrespective of whether Soldier F is prosecuted or found guilty.

I say this fully acknowledging that I have neither the desire nor the courage to be involved in armed conflict and can’t begin to understand the bravery of those who are.

MY OWN VIEW

Firstly, I have friends and ex-Youth Club members in the Armed Forces and several who are ex-Forces (and have discussed this matter with a couple of them). I especially welcome their thoughts along with the views of others.

As expressed at the top of this post, my view is the same as that of the Royal British Legion: that the rule of law must prevail. I stand with the Royal British Legion.

I cannot ‘stand with Soldier F’. In fact, I stand with those brave soldiers who have risked so much to tell the truth of Bloody Sunday.

I stand with Jeremy Corbyn.

And, of course, I stand with the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday and of armed conflict everywhere.

Love and Peace to you all!

Tom Lane