Amnesty by attrition’ for Bloody Sunday soldier

IssueJune - July 2022
News by David Polden

A relative of a victim of Bloody Sunday has condemned what he called ‘amnesty by attrition’ after authorities in Northern Ireland appealed to the UK supreme court to try to avoid prosecuting a British soldier for murder.

‘Soldier F’ (David James Cleary) is the only soldier who has ever been charged with a crime in connection with the Bloody Sunday massacre. He was put on trial in July 2021 for the murders of William McKinney (26) and James Wray (22), as well as at least five attempted murders.

These crimes all occurred in Derry in Northern Ireland on Sunday 30 January 1972, when British paratroopers fired over 100 times into a civil rights march, killing 13 unarmed civilian demonstrators immediately. Another victim died five months later of his wounds.

The Soldier F trial collapsed last summer because the public prosecution service (PPS) in Northern Ireland decided that statements Soldier F had made to police after the murders were inadmissible, because he’d not been cautioned before making the statements.


The family of William McKinney took out a judicial review and in March, the high court in Belfast quashed the dropping of the prosecution.

Lady chief justice dame Siobhan Keegan said: ‘We consider that the decision crosses the threshold of irrationality where it simply does not add up.’

She ordered the PPS to reconsider, and suggested they ask the district judge to rule on the admissibility issue.

Instead, at the end of April, the PPS appealed against her ruling to the UK supreme court.

Liam Wray, the brother of James Wray, the other murder victim in the case, told Derry Now that the appeal was just a ‘delaying tactic’. He sees it as part of a policy of ‘amnesty by attrition’ as memories fade and witnesses die.

A separate legal bid to overturn the PPS’s decision not to prosecute five other soldiers for the deaths of six people on Bloody Sunday failed.

It was not until June 2010, after sitting for 12 years, that the British government’s Savile Inquiry found that the Bloody Sunday deaths had been unlawful killings by British soldiers.

Savile found that Soldier F also shot dead three other unarmed men on Bloody Sunday: Michael Kelly (17), Patrick Doherty (31) and Bernard ‘Barney’ McGuigan (41).

In May, the British government announced that it planned to give immunity to ex-soldiers and others involved in killings in Northern Ireland – if they give full and honest accounts to a new body, ‘the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery’.