Military hearsay statements can be used in the prosecution of a veteran known as Soldier F who is accused of two murders on Bloody Sunday in Derry.
During committal proceedings at the magistrates’ court in Derry, District Judge Ted Magill said he is satisfied the statements from five soldiers can be dealt with in a “fair, just and reliable fashion” by a trial judge.
He ruled that the evidence of a sixth witness cannot be admitted.
A lawyer for the victims’ families said it was a significant day and a step towards a trial taking place over the events on Bloody Sunday.
A number of family members of victims were in court, as well as SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
Former paratrooper Soldier F, who cannot be identified, is accused of murdering James Wray and William McKinney in 1972 when members of the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 civil rights protesters on the streets of the city.
He is also charged with five attempted murders.
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The judge’s ruling centred around a bid by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to use evidence statements given to the 1972 Widgery Report and to the Royal Military Police by other soldiers in the Bogside on the day.
He said: “I am satisfied that the trial process is fully capable of dealing with these, as with all other evidence, in a fair, just and reliable fashion.”
The judge said the defence have a “wealth of material” by which they can contest the case at trial.
He added: “I have found nothing to persuade me that there is any unfairness in the admission of the hearsay statements of these five witnesses, reiterating and re-emphasising, that I am not the trial judge.”
Three of the five former soldiers are now dead.
Ciaran Shiels, lawyer for many of the Bloody Sunday families, said it was “a positive and satisfactory ruling”.
He said: “Five of those witnesses’ evidence is now admitted as evidence before this court.
“It is a significant move forward.
“It is a step closer to the families seeing Soldier F being committed and sent forward for trial.
“Those proceedings will be in Belfast, it will be a Diplock trial.”
He added: “We will obviously be pushing as much as we can. We have had an undertaking from the PPS this morning that they will be making their best efforts to advance this case expeditiously when it gets to the Crown Court.
“Mainly because of the age of the witnesses, the age of the defendant, the age of the families and the survivors who are here today.
“All in all it is a very positive day for the families. Five out of the six soldiers’ evidence is now admitted.”
Mickey McKinney, brother of William McKinney, said: “We look forward now with renewed confidence to Soldier F being formally returned to stand
trial for murder and attempted murder as expeditiously as possible.”
There will be a further committal hearing on September 14.
The PPS previously called a halt to the prosecution of Soldier F in 2021, citing concerns the case could collapse if it went to trial.
The decision to halt proceedings was challenged by Mr McKinney’s family and last year the Divisional Court of the High Court in Belfast overturned the PPS’s move.
After reviewing its position, the PPS decided to resume the prosecution.
Bloody Sunday was one of the darkest days in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Thirteen people were killed on the day and another man shot by paratroopers died four months later.
Many consider him the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday but his death was formally attributed to an inoperable brain tumour.