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Northern Ireland’s prosecutor says British soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday will not be charged with perjury

LONDON (AP) — Fifteen British soldiers who allegedly lied in an investigation into Bloody Sunday, one of the deadliest days of Northern Ireland’s decades-long conflict, will not be charged with perjury, prosecutors said Friday.

There was insufficient evidence to convict the soldiers or any former alleged member of the Irish Republican Army on the basis of their testimony prior to an inquiry into the 1972 killings of thirteen civilians by the British Parachute Regiment in Derry, also known as Londonderry, said the Public Prosecution Service.

An initial investigation into the January 30, 1972 massacres concluded that the soldiers were defending themselves against a band of IRA bombers and gunmen. But a 12-year investigation concluded in 2010 that soldiers wrongly opened fire on unarmed and fleeing civilians and then lied about it for decades.

Families of the victims were outraged by the decision. John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed by paratroopers, spoke on behalf of the group, calling it an “affront to the rule of law.”

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“How is it that the people of Derry cannot forget the events of Bloody Sunday, while the Parachute Regiment, which caused all the deaths and injuries that day, apparently cannot remember?” Kelly said. “The answer to this question is very simple but painfully obvious: the British military lied its way through the conflict in the north.”

Although a quarter of a century has passed since the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement ended three decades of violence involving Irish republican and British loyalist militants and British soldiers, ‘the trouble’ still reverberates. About 3,600 people were killed – most in Northern Ireland, although the IRA also exploded bombs in England.

Only one ex-Bloody Sunday paratrooper, known as Soldier F, is being prosecuted for two murders and five attempted murders. He was one of fifteen soldiers who could have been charged with perjury.

As victims continue to seek justice for the past massacre, the possibility of criminal charges could quickly disappear.

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The British government last year passed a Legacy and Reconciliation Bill that would have granted immunity from prosecution for most crimes committed by militant groups and British soldiers after May 1. But a judge in Belfast ruled in February that the bill did not comply with human rights law. The government will appeal the ruling.

Lawyer Ciaran Shiels, who represents some Bloody Sunday families, said they would not rule out further legal action.

“It is of course regrettable that this decision has only been communicated to us today, some fourteen years after the unequivocal findings of the investigation, but less than two weeks before the effective date of entry into force of the morally bankrupt legislation specifically designed to protect veterans of the British Army to escape justice for its criminal actions in the North of Ireland,” Shiels said.

Chief District Attorney John O’Neill said the decision not to pursue criminal charges was based on three things: the accounts soldiers gave in 1972 were inadmissible; much of the evidence on which the investigation relied is currently unavailable; and the investigation’s conclusion that the testimony was false did not always meet the criminal standard of proof.

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“I want to make it clear that these decisions not to prosecute do not in any way undermine the findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that the dead or wounded did not pose a threat to any of the soldiers,” O’Neill said.

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