Soldier to hand back medal in protest at Bloody Sunday prosecution

Retired soldier who served during the Troubles is to hand back his medal in protest at decision to prosecute ex-Paratrooper who faces murder trial over Bloody Sunday

  • Martin Ledbury, 59, said he is disgusted at the treatment of the ex-para Soldier F
  • Soldier F is the only paratrooper to be charged over the Bloody Sunday massacre
  • Mr Ledbury now is planning to give back his service medal in a mark of solidarity
  • Father-of-one described his former comrade as ‘part of the para brotherhood’

A retired soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles is to hand back his service medal in protest at the decision to charge an ex-Para over Bloody Sunday.

Martin Ledbury, who joined the Royal Artillery at the age of 16, said he is disgusted at the treatment of the ex-serviceman, who has only identified as Soldier F.

The father-of-one, 59, described his former comrade as ‘part of the brotherhood’ of veterans and is now planning to give back his service medal in a mark of solidarity.

Soldier F, who is in his 70s, is the only paratrooper to be charged over the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry on January 30, 1972. 

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced last month he will be prosecuted over two murders and four attempted murders dating back nearly 50 years.

Martin Ledbury, who joined the Royal Artillery at the age of 16, said he is disgusted at the treatment of the ex-serviceman, who has only identified as Soldier F

Soldier F, who is in his 70s, is the only paratrooper to be charged over the Bloody Sunday massacre (pictured) in Londonderry on January 30, 1972

In response, thousands of bikers brought brought traffic in central London to a standstill on Friday as they rode across Westminster Bridge in a show of solidarity with the para. 

Mr Ledbury, of Worcester, said: ‘He has been very unfairly treated. He’s a scapegoat. I feel angry that there has been this betrayal of trust.

‘We were only doing what we were ordered to do, taking the Queen’s shilling and obeying orders.

‘I was there in the heart of the Troubles. We all risked our lives for our country and this is how we are treated. We feel it’s one rule for the terrorists and another for us.

‘I am definitely for sending my medal back and another fifty thousand more will also do it. My daughter who lives abroad said she is very proud of me.

‘When I read on social media that Solider F would be prosecuted I couldn’t believe it. He was just doing his job. It shouldn’t have happened.’

Mr Ledbury received his Northern Ireland medal at 19 and called it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

Thousands of bikers brought brought traffic in central London to a standstill on Friday as they rode across Westminster Bridge in a show of solidarity with the para

Soldier F will face charges for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has said.

Relatives of the 13 killed in Londonderry on January 30 1972, one of the most notorious days of the Northern Ireland Troubles, have long campaigned for justice.

A public inquiry conducted by a senior judge shortly after the deaths was branded a whitewash by victims’ families and a campaign was launched for a new public inquiry.

Relatives sought to right the wrongs of false claims that their loved ones had been armed. A fresh probe was eventually ordered by then prime minister Tony Blair in 1998.

A decade-long investigation by Lord Saville concluded that the troops killed protesters who posed no threat.

Mr Ledbury received his Northern Ireland medal at 19 and called it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

Youths confront British soldiers minutes before paratroopers opened fire on the civilians

Relatives of the 13 killed in Londonderry on January 30 1972, one of the most notorious days of the Northern Ireland Troubles, have long campaigned for justice

He said it is with regret he feels compelled to take the drastic step of returning it.

For his service in the conflict Mr Ledbury was promoted from gunner to lance bombardier.

Mr Ledbury said he contacted ex-paratrooper corporal Jim Kenyon, the former mayor of Herford, who was one of three veterans to send back his medal to Downing Street with 23 white feathers for each member of the Cabinet and the ‘cowardice’ they represent..

Mr Ledbury was involved with various tours in Northern Ireland from 1978 and served in Lurgan and Portadown in County Armagh.

During that time he says he performed peace-keeping duties, went out on patrol, searched for weapons with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and confronted IRA targets.

He estimated he was about 100 yards away from a bombing in Lurgan High Street in November 1978.

The PPS has said there is enough evidence to prosecute Soldier F for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, who were shot dead at a civil rights march.

The single prosecution has been criticised by some of the families of the 13 people killed.

A timeline of Bloody Sunday and the Troubles

August 1969 – British Government first send troops into Northern Ireland to restore order after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.

30 January 1972 – On ‘Bloody Sunday’ 13 civilians are shot dead by the British Army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.

British troops in Northern Ireland during the Troubles which began in the late 1960s and lasted until 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement

March 1972 – The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by London.

1970s – The IRA begin its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain.

April 1981 – Bobby Sands, a republicans on hunger strike in the Maze prison, is elected to Parliament. He dies a month later.

October 1984 – An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party conference.

Early 1990s – Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communications was so secret most ministers did not know about it.

Norman Tebbit, a Conservative cabinet minister at the time, is carried from the wreckage of Brighton’s Grand Hotel following the IRA bomb in 1984

Johnathan Ball (left), 3, and Tim Parry (right), 12, were killed in 1993 after IRA bombs exploded in the small town of Warrington, Cheshire

1993 –  Two IRA bombs hidden in litter bins detonated on Bridge Street in Warrington Cheshire, killing 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball and injuring dozens of civilians.

April 1998 – Tony Blair helps to broker the Good Friday Agreement, which is hailed as the end of the Troubles. It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as its first minister.

2000s – With some exceptions the peace process holds and republican and loyalist paramilitaries decommission their weapons 

2010 – The Saville Report exonerates the civilians who were killed on Bloody Sunday leading to a formal apology from then Prime Minister David Cameron to the families. 

2019 – Prosecutors announce whether to brig charges against the 17 surviving Paras who fired shots that day.

A 1998 photograph of Lord Saville of Newdigate chairing the Bloody Sunday inquiry

Q&A: All you need to know about Soldier F and the Bloody Sunday prosecution

One Army veteran – a former lance corporal in the Parachute Regiment known only as F – is to be prosecuted for two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday.

Here are some of the key questions on the landmark announcement by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

– Were prosecutors able to rely on the testimony and findings of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry?

No. The long-running probe by Lord Saville ran under the terms of the Tribunal of Evidence Act 1921. As such, it was not bound by strict rules of admissibility of evidence that criminal proceedings are governed by. So while Saville may have reached certain conclusions about the soldiers, the PPS could not rely on the same evidence for criminal proceedings – and effectively had to prove the cases afresh. Explaining why 18 suspects avoided prosecution, the PPS repeatedly highlighted this issue – stressing that evidence given to Saville, sometimes by the soldiers themselves, was inadmissible.

Lord Saville chaired the Bloody Sunday inquiry, looking into the events of 1972 (PA)

– Can the families challenge decisions not to prosecute?

Yes. All families have the right to formally request a review of a PPS decision not to prosecute. If that independent assessment of the decision does not recommend a reversal, there are other legal options. Bereaved relatives could ultimately challenge the decisions in the High Court by way of judicial review.

– What next for Soldier F?

An official summons to appear before a district judge will be served. When he receives that letter, proceedings become active. The case will then progress through the magistrates’ court before a decision is taken on whether it will be passed to the crown court for trial. Experience with the Northern Ireland legal system would suggest it could be many months, potentially years, before the cases comes to trial.

– Where would a potential trial be held?

While family members might like to see Soldier F brought back to Londonderry to face justice, security concerns would likely prevent the trial being heard in the city’s Bishop Street courthouse – a building targeted by a dissident republican car bomb earlier this year. Belfast Crown Court is a more realistic venue. This is where other major Troubles related cases are held. The building is linked to a local police station, making it easier to transport high-profile defendants to court.

– Will there be a jury?

This is a timely question. For decades, any cases linked to the Troubles have been held without a jury. A judge instead decides guilt or innocence in proceedings formerly known as Diplock trials. However, another military veteran who is facing a conflict-related attempted murder charge – 77-year-old Dennis Hutchings – is currently challenging the decision to sit without a trial in the UK Supreme Court. The judgment in that case may well impact whether Soldier F’s trial will be tried by judge or jury.

– Will the soldier’s identity be revealed?

Anonymity orders covering the 17 soldiers and two suspected Official IRA men were imposed during the Bloody Sunday inquiry and remain in place. The decision on whether Soldier F’s identity will continue to be kept from the public will be addressed during the future court proceedings. In respect of other cases, some veterans have retained their anonymity, others have not.

– If convicted, would Soldier F be eligible for a reduced sentence, like paramilitaries found guilty of Troubles-related offences?

Security forces veterans are eligible to apply for early release. Anyone convicted of a Troubles-related offence and serving their sentence in Northern Ireland would be covered by the terms of the controversial element of the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, which enabled hundreds of convicted terrorists to walk free on licence after serving two years behind bars.

As it stands, the scheme would not include Bloody Sunday, as it only covers offences committed between 1973 and 1998.

But legislation proposed by the Government to give effect to a range of new legacy mechanisms – set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement – includes a provision to extend the early release scheme to cover offences committed before 1973, changing the start date to January 1968.

So, if that becomes law, anyone convicted of an offence related to Bloody Sunday (January 1972) would be covered by the early release scheme. Those proposals, which have been subject to a recent public consultation, would also extend the provision to those serving sentences in Great Britain.

(PA Graphics)

– How much evidence did the PPS examine?

The Police Service of Northern Ireland murder probe was launched in 2012 and the first soldier was arrested and questioned in 2015. The first police evidence files were passed to prosecutors in November 2016. Additional files were handed over in March and September 2017.

In total, they included 668 witness statements. Also numerous photos, video and audio evidence.

A total of 20 suspects were interviewed – 18 soldiers and two Official IRA men. One of the veterans died last December so the PPS consideration of his case was discontinued. Four other soldiers included in the Saville Report died before the police had completed their investigation.

The evidence files given to the PPS accounted for 40 lever arch files, containing a total of 20,000 pages. The PPS also examined the full Saville Report – 5,000 pages – and 100,000 pages of additional underlying material spanning the years 1972 to 2010, including the 1972 Widgery Report. So, 125,000 pages all together.

– What about other legacy cases? Is there a disproportionate focus on investigating security force members, as some claim?

In the last eight years, the PPS has taken prosecutorial decisions in 26 other cases related to the Troubles.

Thirteen of those related to alleged offences involving republican paramilitaries, with eight prosecutions taken.

Eight of the 26 cases related to alleged loyalist paramilitary activity, with decisions to prosecute in four instances.

Three cases involved former soldiers, with prosecutions mounted in each one.

Two cases involved police officers and both resulted in a decision not to prosecute.

– Could there be a future amnesty for veterans?

This remains an issue of intense controversy in Northern Ireland.

Last year, the Government angered some of its own backbenchers, and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, when it did not include a statute of limitations on prosecutions of ex-service personnel among proposals for dealing with Northern Ireland’s toxic past.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said such a measure would be unacceptable, because it would also have to cover terror suspects accused of historic crimes.

The prospect of a statute of limitations met with vocal opposition in Northern Ireland. Both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists voiced concern, as did the Irish Government and representatives of the victims sector.

The DUP and some military veterans in Northern Ireland made the point that any such statute would, by law, have to be extended to also cover former paramilitaries – something they branded unacceptable.

Mr Williamson is still considering the potential of a statute of limitations for ex-service personnel focused on overseas conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Victims campaigners insist such measures must not include Northern Ireland. 

Who were the victims of the Bloody Sunday shootings? 

Patrick Doherty, 31. The married father-of-six was shot from behind as he attempted to crawl to safety from the forecourt of Rossville Flats.

Gerald Donaghey, 17. The IRA youth member was shot in the abdomen while running between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park. While Lord Saville said it was probable that he was in possession of nail bombs when he was shot, he stressed that he was not preparing to throw a nail bomb at the time and was shot ‘while trying to escape from the soldiers’.

John ‘Jackie’ Duddy, 17. The first to be killed on Bloody Sunday, he was running away when he was shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville Flats.

Hugh Gilmour, 17. The talented footballer and ardent Liverpool fan was hit with a single shot as he ran away from the rubble barricade in Rossville Street.

Michael Kelly, 17. The trainee sewing machine mechanic was shot once in the abdomen close to the rubble barricade in Rossville Street by a soldier crouched some 80 yards away at Kells Walk.

(Top row, left to right) Patrick Doherty, Bernard McGuigan, John ‘Jackie’ Duddy and Gerald Donaghey. (Bottom row, left to right) Gerard McKinney, Jim Wray, William McKinney and John Young

Michael McDaid, 20. The barman died instantly after being shot in the face at the barricade in Rossville Street.

Kevin McElhinney, 17. The grocery store worker was shot from behind as he crawled towards Rossville Flats.

Bernard ‘Barney’ McGuigan, 41. The father-of-six was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty, waving a white handkerchief in his hand, when he was shot in the head with a single round. He died instantly.

Gerard McKinney, 35. The father-of-eight was running close behind Gerald Donaghey in Abbey Park when the bullet that killed both of them hit him first.

William ‘Willie’ McKinney (not related to Gerard), 27. The keen amateur film-maker recorded scenes from the march with his hand-held cinecamera before the shooting started. The camera was found in his jacket pocket as he lay dying after being shot in the back in Glenfada Park.

William Nash, 19. The dockworker was struck by a single bullet to the chest close to the rubble barricade in Rossville Street.

James Wray, 22. Engaged to be married, the civil rights activist was shot twice in the back in Glenfada Park.

John Young, 17. The menswear shop clerk was killed instantly with a single shot to the head at the rubble barricade. 

(Top row, left to right:) Michael Kelly, Michael McDaid, Hugh Gilmore. (Bottom row, left to right) Kevin McElhinney, William Nash and (bottom right) John Johnston, who some consider a victim of the shooting but whose death was put down to a brain tumour

John Johnston, 59, was shot twice by soldiers positioned inside a derelict building in William Street. He died four months later in hospital, but while many consider him the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday, his death was formally attributed to an inoperable brain tumour.

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