Northern Ireland news

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood defiant over Solder F letter

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
Connla Young

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has branded threats of court action against a brother of a Bloody Sunday victim as "utterly tactless and insensitive".

The Derry based MP and several others, including justice campaigner John Kelly, received letters from the office of Attorney General Brenda King after a prosecution against a former British paratrooper known as Soldier F was stopped.

Material identifying him was later circulated on social media despite an anonymity order being in place.

Some of those who received letters late last year, including Mr Kelly, were told the Attorney General is considering whether to commence contempt of court proceedings.

Mr Kelly's brother Michael was one of 14 innocent Catholic men who died after being gunned down by members of the Parachute Regiment during a civil rights march in Derry in January 1972.

Others contacted by the Attorney General's office include human rights lawyer Ciarán Shiels, Causeway Coast and Glens councillor Padraig McShane and Derry and Strabane independent representative Gary Donnelly.

Nationalists reacted angrily last July when prosecutors told relatives that murder cases against Soldier F and another former member of the military, Soldier B, were being discontinued.

Soldier F had faced two murder charges in respect of the Bloody Sunday killings of William McKinney and Jim Wray.

He was also expected to be charged with the attempted murder of Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon, Michael Quinn and the late Patrick O'Donnell.

A court had granted the former soldier anonymity.

Mr Eastwood later used parliamentary privilege to identify Soldier F during a Westminster debate.

It is understood Mr Eastwood was later asked to give an undertaking that he would not repeat Soldier Fs name.

It was also indicated that the speaker of the House of Commons would also be contacted.

The SDLP leader last night remained unrepentant.

“I am a political leader, elected by the people of Derry to stand up for them in the House of Commons and I answer only to them," Mr Eastwood said.

"I'm sorry that the Attorney General seems not to approve of the comments I made but the truth is that her office has no jurisdiction over the House of Commons and I will not apologise, nor will I give any undertaking to stay silent when the people of my city need a strong voice."

Mr Eastwood also referenced the correspondence sent to Mr Kelly.

“The Attorney General can send letters to me if she wishes, that's part and parcel of being a political leader," he said.

"But I find the correspondence issued to some Bloody Sunday families utterly tactless and insensitive.

"These victims have been fighting for justice for 50 years and have received, to my knowledge, no support from the guardian of the rule of law in Northern Ireland."

Mr Kelly last night said the matter was in the hands of his solicitor.

His lawyer, Fearghál Shiels, of Madden and Finucane Solicitors, said: "We are currently formulating a response and in the circumstances it would be inappropriate to comment."

Solicitor Ciarán Shiels, who has represented Bloody Sunday relatives including the family of Michael Kelly for more than two decades, also received a letter from the Attorney General's office.

It was alleged that he had 'liked' two Twitter posts said to have been uploaded by John Kelly.

"I have been aware of Soldier F and his co-suspects names well in excess of 20 years and I have never breached a court order in relation to the anonymity that they have managed successfully to obtain despite my own personal views in respect of providing suspected murderers with special measures that are normally available for vulnerable victims," he said.

"I think the state really ought to be examining the conduct of its agents who are suspected of mass murder as opposed to victims and human rights campaigners like John Kelly.

"Certainly in terms of my support for John Kelly, I will be apologising for that to no-one."

Independent councillor Padraig McShane also received a letter.

It is understood he was contacted after he shared an image on Facebook identifying Soldier F.

Mr McShane last night said he neither removed the image from his Facebook page or responded to the correspondence.

"I'm pretty sure the Attorney General was not monitoring my Facebook page and the question arises, who is?" he said.

"As an elected representative we are all keen on supporting the families and seeing justice for 14 innocent civilians."

The Attorney General's office was contact for comment.

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