Retired Aldershot soldiers may face questioning by police about their actions more than 40 years ago when protesters in Northern Ireland were fired upon, however the threat has been labelled ‘speculative’ by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Events on January 30 1972, when 14 civilians taking part in a civil rights march in Londonderry died after being shot by armed soldiers, led to the day being known as Bloody Sunday.
An inquiry by Lord Saville concluded in 2010 that the killings were ‘unjustified’ as the protesters had not posed any danger and that the soldiers, some of whom were based in Aldershot’s 16th Parachute Brigade barracks and remained in the town after retiring, had ‘lost their self-control’.
Family members of those killed have called for action to be taken against the soldiers and a source close to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told the Sunday Times that interviews under police caution in relation to the killings were ‘imminent’.
It is possible that up to 20 soldiers may face murder or attempted murder charges by the PSNI and, subsequently, prison sentences.
An MoD spokesman this week said there was some scepticism about whether the threat of criminal charges against the soldiers involved would materialise.
“The view is that the PSNI mentioned this in July 2012 and there have been no significant developments since then,” he said. “All the talk is somewhat speculative at the moment.”
The events of January 30 1972 occurred during a turbulent 30-year period in Northern Ireland, during which nationalists clashed with loyalists over the country’s status as part of the UK.
In revenge for Bloody Sunday, the Official Irish Republican Army targeted the officers’ mess at the 16th Parachute Regiment headquarters in Aldershot on February 22 1972, killing seven civilian staff and injuring 19.
It was the biggest Official IRA attack in this period and the last major action before a ceasefire was declared in May of that year.
Aldershot MP Sir Gerald Howarth has long condemned the Saville inquiry, which cost nearly £200m during the 12 years it took to complete, and said he would demand an inquiry into the Aldershot bombing if prosecutions were brought against the retired soldiers.
None of the soldiers interviewed as part of the Saville inquiry have been identified due to the risk of further retribution, but Sir Gerald confirmed that a number of his current constituents were involved in the Londonderry tragedy.
He said it ‘disturbed’ him to think the ‘painful’ series of events could still finish with prosecutions against soldiers in their 70s.
“Is this what we should be doing?” he asked.
“I remain concerned because my understanding is the authorities in Northern Ireland are unlikely to come to a decision on whether there should be prosecutions until next year.
“It’s simply unfair on the former soldiers that they should be living in a state of limbo.
“It was a dreadful time and a tragedy all round, but let’s now move on.”
He continues to campaign for a memorial to the ‘Aldershot Seven’ killed in the retaliation bombing, potentially as part of the Aldershot Urban Extension.
He added: “The grief of the bereaved in Aldershot is no less than the grief of the bereaved in Londonderry.
“I'm speaking up on behalf of Aldershot and my constituents, both those in uniform and those whose loved ones were brutally and cowardly murdered.”