Bloody Sunday victims '˜should get punishing damages for state lies'
Punishing levels of compensation should be paid out to Bloody Sunday victims for 38 years of state lies about the shootings, the High Court has heard.
Counsel for one man shot in the face by a soldier in Londonderry argued that the cover-up had been so outrageous and prolonged that the most punitive damages is justified.
Michael Quinn also recalled how he felt an “explosion” of bone and blood when was hit while trying to run for cover as a 17-year-old schoolboy.
Thirteen people were shot dead when British Army paratroopers opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the city in January 1972.
One of the others wounded on the day died later.
In 2010 a major inquiry chaired by Lord Saville said those killed or injured on Bloody Sunday were innocent.
Following those conclusions the then prime minister David Cameron issued a public apology for the actions of the soldiers.
He described the killings as “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
Claims have been brought against the Ministry of Defence by those bereaved or wounded.
With liability accepted, three test cases have been selected for arguments on the level of damages.
The court heard how Mr Quinn, now aged 63, was so badly wounded that he received the Last Rites in hospital.
An A-level student at St Columb’s College at the time of Bloody Sunday, he had gone with friends to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march.
But after the Army started firing he fled from the Rossville Street area amid growing fears at the unfolding events.
He told of seeing a soldier emerge from behind flats and looking in his direction.
“He raised his rifle, put his hand in a pouch and pulled out a round,” Mr Quinn said.
“The sun was low in the sky, it was gleaming (on the bullet); that really shook me.”
He then crawled and ran into Glenfada Park North in an attempt to take shelter.
While he was there he saw the body of Michael Kelly, one of those fatally wounded, being carried.
As others began to surge into the area, shouting that soldiers were coming in, Mr Quinn headed, crouched down towards an alley.
He had just made it over a raised area when the bullet hit him.
“It felt like someone had given me a very hard punch to the face,” he told the court.
“Just below my eye I could physically see droplets of blood and bone and skin exploding from my face.”
He continued: “It felt like slow motion as it was happening, I could see also that someone else was falling beside me.
“I saw his head hit the pavement, he hadn’t put out his arms to break the fall.”
That man turned out to be James Wray, another of those killed, who had asked Mr Quinn to help carry the civil rights banner earlier in the day.
Mr Quinn managed to stumble on until he was brought to a first aid post and then taken to Altnagelvin Hospital.
The court heard how the scene in the accident and emergency department was like something he had only previously seen in footage of medical units in a warzone.
He recalled being “terrified” when a priest was brought over to administer the Last Rites because of the extent of his injuries.
Now a married father of three who has forged a successful career in banking, his barrister said he is reminded of Bloody Sunday every time he looks in the mirror.
Brian Fee QC argued that Mr Quinn should not only receive compensation for his facial injuries, but also aggravated and exemplary damages for being shot as a completely innocent boy.
“He had to flee through the streets of his own city with blood pouring from a horrible facial wound, and he had to endure the fear his wounds might be fatal or might blind him,” counsel said.
“The false accounts concocted by the defendant’s soldiers then rubbed salt into his wounds when, instead of admitting that they had shot at fleeing civilians without any justification at all, they alleged they had only aimed shots at people with lethal weapons.”
Mr Fee added: “They persisted in these lies for 38 years until their account was emphatically rejected by the Saville Report.
“The misconduct of the soldiers in Glenfada Park on Bloody Sunday, as determined by Saville, was wholly outrageous and, if anything, the maintenance of false allegations and accounts for such a duration thereafter constituted even greater misconduct.”
He argued that a “very substantial sum” should be awarded for the prolonged cover-up of the truth.
“The state should be punished for the lies its servants told and persisted in right up to the conclusions of Saville.”
David Ringland QC, for the Ministry of Defence, told the court he had been in discussions with the plaintiffs’ representatives for more than six years after Mr Cameron recommended payments to the Bloody Sunday victims.
“That process proved unfruitful,” he said.
Stressing how the defendant had not raised any argument over potential delay, he added: “In each case the only issue for the court is the assessment of damages.”
The hearing continues.