Bloody Sunday 'not covered by reduced jail legislation'

By Julian O'Neill
BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

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Image caption,
Thirteen people were killed on Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972

Bloody Sunday is not currently covered by legislation dealing with reduced jail terms for Trouble-related offences, Secretary of State Karen Bradley has confirmed.

However, she noted there are plans to change the law, agreed five years ago.

Existing legislation only covers offences committed between 1973 and 1998 - the Bloody Sunday killings happened in 1972.

A new start date of 1968 is proposed in legislation yet to be implemented.

This is part of the government's plans to deal with legacy issues.

Mrs Bradley set out the position in answer to a parliamentary question from Conservative MP Julian Lewis.

It comes as prosecutors prepare to announce whether 17 ex-soldiers and two former members of the Official IRA will face charges for their involvement in Bloody Sunday - a day that saw 13 civil rights protesters shot dead on the streets of Londonderry.

In the past there has been debate on whether the early release scheme was meant to include convicted security force members.

Mrs Bradley said security force veterans are eligible.

Image caption,
Karen Bradley was asked for clarification on Troubles-related offences by MP Julian Lewis

Under the scheme, anyone convicted of a Troubles offence after 1973 and before the Good Friday Agreement is eligible for early release after two years in prison.

The scheme saw the release of more than 500 paramilitaries from jail as part of the peace process.

Mr Lewis asked for clarification of the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 in a written question to Mrs Bradley, specifically asking whether the two-year cap applied to members of the armed forces, police and security services.

Mrs Bradley replied: "Currently anyone convicted of Troubles-related scheduled offences and serving their sentence in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply to the scheme.

"The provisions set out in the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill, on which we recently consulted, would amend the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to extend this two-year accelerated release scheme for Troubles-related offences to those serving sentences in Great Britain.

"The Sentences Act does not cover offences committed before August 1973, so the draft Bill proposes to extend the early release scheme to cover the start of the Troubles (January 1968-August 1973)."

"The Government has no intention to extend early release to offences committed after the date of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. There is no proposal in the consultation to do this and the government is not contemplating it."

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