UK to pay victims over 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre

September 22, 2011 - 5:55 AM
Britain NIreland Bloody Sunday

FILE - This is a Sunday Jan. 30, 1972 file photo of a man receiving attention during the shooting incident in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which became known as Bloody Sunday. Britain's defense ministry says it is prepared to pay compensation to relatives of 13 Irish demonstrators shot to death in 1972 by British troops. The ministry said on Thursday Sept. 22. 2011 it was in contact with lawyers acting for the families of those killed during a protest in the Northern Ireland town of Londonderry, (AP Photo/PA, File) UNITED KINGDOM OUT

DUBLIN (AP) — Britain said Thursday it will offer compensation payments to the families of Northern Ireland people killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday, a nearly 40-year-old massacre by British paratroopers that fueled Irish Catholic support for the IRA.

Thirteen people were killed and 14 wounded on Jan. 30, 1972, in Londonderry when the soldiers opened fire on a Catholic crowd demonstrating against Britain's detention without trial of Irish Republican Army suspects. Britain compounded local fury by hastily ruling that the soldiers were responding to IRA attacks and targeting gunmen.

Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron apologized after a 12-year probe ruled that the soldiers fired without justification on unarmed civilians — many of whom were fleeing or aiding wounded — and were solely responsible for the carnage.

Britain's Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday it has written to lawyers representing the Londonderry victims' families seeking terms for financial payments. It offered no details of potential payouts.

"We acknowledge the pain felt by these families for nearly 40 years, and that members of the armed forces acted wrongly. For that, the government is deeply sorry," the ministry said in a statement.

But some families immediately rejected any offer of financial compensation, stressing that they want criminal prosecutions of those who opened fire. Nobody has ever been charged over the 13 killings.

"It is repulsive. Offensive. Not now, nor at any time will I accept money," said Linda Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was shot fatally through the chest. "I've already told my legal team I want to go forward with prosecutions."

Nash noted that Britain in the early 1970s had offered her mother a cursory compensation payment of 250 pounds, about $625 at the time. "She didn't take it then and I will be doing the same," she said.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, authorized by former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the immediate build-up to the Good Friday peace accord of 1998, was empowered to find the truth behind the British Army's worst act of violence in Northern Ireland. Families of the dead had demanded such a probe for decades.

The investigation led by English judge Lord Saville produced a 5,000-page report based on evidence from 921 witnesses, 2,500 written statements and 60 volumes of written evidence. It cost nearly 200 million pounds ($300 million).

Saville gave the ex-paratroopers, now in their 60s and 70s, broad protections from criminal charges as well as anonymity in the witness box, citing the risk that IRA dissidents might target them in retaliation.

However legal experts say wiggle room remains for prosecutions and, more likely, civil lawsuits against the retired soldiers, particularly those who were found to have lied during their testimony.

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Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.