Mural in Londonderry commemorating the Bloody Sunday killings
Northern Ireland

Bloody Sunday Soldier Charges Would Set 'Dangerous Precedent', Ex-Army Chief Says

It's just days before an announcement on whether the soldiers will face charges linked to the killings on Bloody Sunday.

Mural in Londonderry commemorating the Bloody Sunday killings

Mural in Londonberry commemorating Bloody Sunday killings.

Prosecuting British soldiers over the deaths of civilians on Bloody Sunday would set a "dangerous precedent" for the Army's future operations around the world, a former military chief has said.

Lord Ramsbotham, who was a military assistant to the Chief of the General Staff at the time of the shootings, said he is hopeful that soldiers from support company of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment will not face charges 47-years-on from the killings.

"The position of a commander giving an order to somebody to open fire, if it's likely to end up in court, the soldier receiving the order and the person giving the order will think twice about it in the future," Lord Ramsbotham said.

"And that could have very serious implications if we're defending this country. I'm thinking outside the box, as it were, and Londonderry. But I am thinking in terms of the command and control of the Army as a whole."

He added:

"I hope that they are not prosecuted because it sets a very difficult precedent. It's a very dangerous precedent."

Lord Ramsbotham, who was then Lieutenant Colonel David Ramsbotham, was in London when he took a phone call on the evening of Sunday, January 30 1972, telling him people had been killed at the civil rights march.

He said: "I was obviously very sorry that lives had been lost because one never likes lives being lost at all, and the thought that the soldiers might have been involved in killing people on the streets of Londonderry."

He recalled that General Sir Michael Carver, then head of the Army, had been "appalled" by the news.

He said: "As far as my boss was concerned, he was appalled that a civil rights march, which is what it was advertised as, should have resulted in so many deaths."

Lord Ramsbotham and General Carver visited the regiment a week after the shootings and Lord Ramsbotham said he "got the impression that the regiment was full of remorse for what had happened and was obviously nervous about the inquiry into what was going on, what had happened".

"I'm involved in the general hope that a line could be drawn and we could stop the idea of prosecuting people for something that happened in the 1970s," he said.

"I'm not talking about Bloody Sunday, I'm talking about the general historical inquiries.

"I regret that they are even being considered because I think that there comes a time when you've got to draw a line in the sand about these things, regrettable though they are."

If Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service announces it intends to prosecute some or all of the 17 soldiers under consideration, Lord Ramsbotham has urged the Government to ensure they are supported.