Bloody Sunday: PPS seeks advice on witness perjury

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A man carries a copy of the long awaited Saville report

The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has said it is seeking advice about how to respond to the findings of the Saville Report.

Observers say decisions on prosecuting former soldiers over the Bloody Sunday shootings would be complex.

But the report referred to certain witnesses providing evidence to the inquiry which was knowingly untrue.

The PPS said it would consult the Crown Prosecution Service to establish where jurisdiction lay in such cases.

The PPS said that was because some evidence was given to the inquiry sitting in London.

Thirteen marchers were shot dead on 30 January 1972 in Londonderry when British paratroopers opened fire on crowds at a civil rights demonstration.

Fifteen others were wounded.

The Saville Report which took 12 years to complete at a cost of £195m, is heavily critical of the Army and found that soldiers killed people without justification.

'Blanket immunity'

The report concluded that none of the victims were armed, that soldiers gave no warnings before opening fire and that the shootings were a "catastrophe" for Northern Ireland, leading to increased violence in subsequent years.

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

None of the witnesses were granted blanket immunity from prosecution.

All witnesses were immune from prosecutions on the grounds of self incrimination - but there was no immunnity for perjury.

This meant that the evidence given by a witness could not be used against them in any future legal proceedings.

However this does not rule out prosecutions against a witness in a broader sense, especially if the evidence against them is supplied by a third party or other witness.

Image source, Other
Image caption,
Thirteen people died when British soldiers opened fire in Londonderry

BBC Northern Ireland's Paul McCauley, who was the only journalist to attend every day of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry said that any prosecutions against individuals would be unlikely.

"Given the Good Friday agreement, even if a soldier were to be prosecuted as a result of this, they would not spend a day in jail.

"That is not my opinion, that is a fact"

Abuse of process

Some legal experts, however, said wriggle room remains for prosecutions and, more likely, civil lawsuits against retired soldiers, particularly as some of the them were found to have lied to the Saville Inquiry.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the decision whether or not to prosecute the soldiers would not be straightforward.

There needed to be sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction - not an easy test after 38 years.

"If any defendant believes that the passage of time makes a fair trial impossible, they could argue the prosecution was an abuse of process," our correspondent said.

"Any prosecutions would also need to be judged to be in the public interest."

A lawyer representing British soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday inquiry has insisted the report's findings did not open the door for prosecutions.

Stephen Pollard accused senior judge Lord Saville, who led the inquiry, of painting an unfair picture.

He said Lord Saville had "cherry-picked" the evidence.

"I think Lord Saville felt under very considerable pressure after 12 years and 191 million pounds to give a report which gave very clear findings even where in truth the evidence didn't support them.

"What he has had to do is adopt the pieces of evidence that fit the theory and abandon those that don't."

Clarification 9 April 2019: This article was amended to remove a reference to the death of John Johnston. This reflects the Bloody Sunday Inquiry's finding about Mr Johnston's death several months after he was wounded in Derry on 30 January 1972. The inquiry report states that his death was "not the result of any of the wounds he sustained on Bloody Sunday".