-Prosecutors are investigating the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians in January 1972
-The demonstrators were shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment
-Some 17 soldiers, the oldest of whom is 77, remain under criminal investigation
-Conservative MPs have called for the probe to be abandoned after 47 years
Army veterans are expected to be charged with murder within a fortnight over the deaths of Bloody Sunday protesters during the Troubles 47 years ago, The Telegraph understands.
Well-placed sources have suggested that four ex-paratroopers, now in their 60s and 70s, fear being told on March 14 they will face murder charges in connection with the notorious shootings in Londonderry in 1972.
Fourteen civilians were killed and another 14 wounded when the soldiers from 1 Para opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in the city.
Prosecutors in Northern Ireland will meet with victims’ families on March 14 before making the long-awaited announcement on whether former soldiers will stand trial.
One soldier facing two charges of attempted murder, who can only be identified as Sergeant O, is accused of firing into the air and hitting brickwork which may have fallen and injured civilians.
He said: ‘It is a worry. It just niggles away.’ However, he added: ‘I am in my late 70s. I am in God’s waiting room. There is not a lot they can do to me.’ The group of 17 have been left in limbo since 2016, when they were interviewed under police caution. An 18th veteran was also interviewed, but died before Christmas.
The criminal investigation began following the 12-year inquiry led by Lord Saville, which ended in 2010. Costing £200million, it concluded troops ‘lost control’ on January 30, 1972 when troops from the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment opened fire on protesters, killing 14 and injuring another 14.
The former soldiers at the greatest risk of murder charges were highlighted in Lord Saville’s report as Lance Corporal F, Corporal P, Soldier R and Soldier U.
Under the rules of the inquiry, the soldiers involved have been granted anonymity. However, they fear they could be identified if the cases end up in court.
Prosecutors will have to prove individuals were responsible for particular crimes. Little forensic evidence remains, and statements from the initial investigation in 1972 may also be excluded as soldiers were under pressure from commanding officers. Evidence given to Lord Saville by soldiers cannot be used against them.
Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP and former Army captain who served in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I think the British public will take a dim view of a decision taken to charge veterans some 47 years after the event.’
The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland will inform victims’ families of decisions on prosecutions before any public announcements are made.
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment last night.
The developments follow controversy over those who saw action in the Gulf. In 2010 the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, or Ihat, was set up to investigate claims of murder, torture and wrongdoing by British troops. Over seven years more than 3,600 claims were filed, costing the taxpayer £60million – but not one resulted in prosecution.
So what do you think?
Tell us in the comments.