Families of the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry have reacted with fury that the trial of an ex-paratrooper accused of murdering two men in the atrocity may be moved to Belfast.
A judge suggested on Friday that due to “security concerns” the first hearing in a case against a soldier alleged to have killed Bloody Sunday victims should be relocated to Belfast.
Thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead during a civil rights/anti-internment march in Derry 48 years ago this month.
A former member of the Parachute Regiment known as Soldier F stands accused of murdering James Wray and William McKinney when troops opened fire on the demonstration in the city’s Bogside area in 1972.
At a pre-trial hearing at Derry magistrates court on Friday, the district judge, Barney McElholm, said: “We cannot convene this in just some hall or public space. There are considerations of security. We are willing to listen to any reasonable opposition put to us.
“At the moment, despite trying to get somewhere closer to the city, I am afraid Belfast looks like the venue.”
Soldier F, who has been granted anonymity, did not appear at Friday’s hearing.
John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said moving the trial to Belfast was “adding injury” to the feelings of the victims’ families.
He said it was an injustice that “the crimes committed in Derry were not being tried in the city where they took place”.
Kelly added: “Many of the families are old people. They are in their late 60s, 70s and 80s and they worry about having to make the long journey every day of the trial itself to Belfast.
“The Court Service could easily accommodate the families at Derry courthouse if they opened another courtroom and beamed in the proceedings through video link. This happened during the Bloody Sunday inquiry when a separate building was opened across the road from the Derry Guildhall housing the tribunal. Every day a live video link was run to cope with the overspill.”
In 2010, the Bloody Sunday inquiry report found that all of the 13 victims were innocent unarmed civilians. David Cameron, the then prime minister, apologised in the House of Commons to the victims and their families on behalf of the British government.
Kelly pointed out that during the inquiry in the mid-2000s, the families of victims had to travel to London more than a dozen times in order to attend hearings involving soldiers and politician, including the prime minister at the time of the massacre, Ted Heath.
“Today the families are worried once more that they having to endure more unnecessary pressure and travel to see justice down for their loved ones.
“As for security concerns raised today I would say there is more security problems for the police in Belfast because if the trial was heard there then supporters of Soldier F would feel safe enough to turn up and protest against the trial, and this could lead to counter protests against the Para’s supporters,” he added.
Outside the Derry courthouse, Mickey McKinney, whose brother Willie was shot dead allegedly by Soldier F, said: “What happened on Bloody Sunday happened here 200 yards from where we now stand and Soldier F should be appearing at this courthouse.”