Soldier F: Veterans’ group welcomes ‘no jail’ call by Bloody Sunday sister

Relatives and supporters of those killed on Bloody Sunday make their way to the Guildhall in Londonderry to hear the outcome of the Saville inquiry in 2010
Relatives and supporters of those killed on Bloody Sunday make their way to the Guildhall in Londonderry to hear the outcome of the Saville inquiry in 2010

A veterans’ group has welcomed remarks from a Bloody Sunday campaigner that a soldier facing murder charges for two deaths should not be jailed – even if he is found guilty.

Northern Ireland Veterans Association (NIVA) spokesman Ian Simpson was speaking after a sister of one of the 14 people killed said that most of the Bloody Sunday families did not want to see the only soldier charged sent to jail – even if he is found guilty in his forthcoming trial.

Former Paratrooper ‘Soldier F’ is charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney after civil rights demonstrations in Londonderry on Sunday, January 30, 1972.

Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was also shot dead, said this week that most Bloody Sunday families do not want to see Soldier F jailed, no matter what the outcome of the trial.

“There is one soldier; if he is found guilty – I mean nobody is looking for – I don’t think anybody wants him jailed or anything like that,” she told the News Letter.

“And that would be my experience of most of the families. That is serious, by the way, I am not just saying that.”

Mr Simpson told the News Letter that NIVA “welcomed the statement made by Kate Nash and feel her comments are helpful to the situation”.

The veterans’ group recently organised a major commemoration parade in Lisburn to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of Operation Banner – the army’s deployment during the Troubles.

Mr Simpson added: “NIVA believes that the law should be equally applied to all those who break the law and have no problem in members of the security forces that have stepped outside the law being dealt with by the law.

“However, we feel that the law is currently tilted against veterans and that if the scales of justice mean anything they should be balanced and all people should come under the law equally.”

Mr Simpson also highlighted the 3,000 terrorist weapons that the PSNI this week revealed that they held. The police also confirmed that the firearms present potential DNA opportunities for criminal investigations.

“Are the PSNI now going to test these for DNA and make those connected to them amenable in the courts for the crimes they have committed?” Mr Simpson asked.

“The vast majority of veterans who served in NI from all services have nothing to fear from the law as 99% of them did their job professionally and with dignity and honour.”

UUP MLA Doug Beattie described Mrs Nash’s comments as “thoughtful”.

Speaking to the News Letter, the Military Cross recipient said he did not want to comment on the live case itself.

“The point I would make is that it was a thoughtful comment by Kate Nash and it was a compassionate comment,” he said.

“And as such we should commend her for that because she is a woman that has suffered with the loss of her brother and she is a woman who has had to fight for justice.

“And in some cases that justice has been denied but nevertheless, for her to come up with the comments she did I think shows a real strength and leadership that many could take something from.”

Mrs Nash was speaking to the News Letter on the 40th anniversary of the IRA bombings at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint in 1979 in which 16 members of the Parachute Regiment were killed. The attack was claimed by some republicans as revenge for the regiment’s role in Bloody Sunday seven years earlier.

In June Mr Beattie was promoted to the rank of major in the Royal Irish Regiment reserves.

He served three tours in Afghanistan in 2006, 2008 and 2010-11. Originally from Portadown, he became a soldier in 1982.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in a 13-day-battle in Afghanistan in 2006.

In March Mr Beattie hit out at the suggestion that the Army operation in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday was “a job well done”.

Reacting to the controversial claim made by an ex-paratrooper who was serving in the Bogside on the day of the shootings in 1972, Mr Beattie branded the killing of 14 civilians “an abject failure” and “a loss of military discipline”.