Posts Tagged ‘institutional culture’

Justice and Bloody Sunday

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

I felt uneasy covering this protest against the prosecution of soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre, the murder of civil rights protesters in Derry/Londonderry in 1972, and other incidents in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles.’

It wasn’t because of my views about their protest, though I’m clear that there is a need to see justice done for those who lost family and friends in that terrible event. I do wonder whether 47 years later there is much point in bringing ageing ex-soldiers to trial, and those who bear the real responsibility for the events – from Prime Minister Edward Heath down – are long dead. But is there any other way to reach some satisfactory conclusion?

It is of course shameful that these clearly illegal killings were not properly investigated at the time – and those soldiers who were found to have acted illegally brought to justice at the time. We shouldn’t have the culture of cover-up which is so deeply embedded in both our military, government and judicial establishment – and continues to cover up crimes such as the killings by police officers of mentally disturbed black young men, newspaper sellers and Brazilian electricians and those responsible for creating the death-trap of Grenfell tower (and almost certainly the mysterious death of weapons expert David Kelly.) The list goes on and on…

If I had been a few years older I would have either faced National Service either in the armed forces or to have taken the decision as one of my brothers did to enter one of the non-military essential services as an alternative. Fortunately for him, the call-ups ended in November 1960 when he was still a student, and I was still at school.

After the last National Servicemen left the forces in 1963, they became solely reliant on recruits and their nature has changed, developing a more conservative and right-wing nature. Extreme right organisations such as the EDL included many ex-soldiers among their members, and the Veterans Against Terrorism joined with the Football Lads Alliance for what was clearly a racist and Islamophobic protest despite the protestations of the organisers in October 2017.

So while the veterans protesting here were a much wider group – and certainly I would not label them as racists, I knew that among them would be some of those who had threatened and attacked me when I was photographing right-wing protests, and I was uneasy when mingling with the crowd. And as I made my way to the front of the protest I did see and hear several people pointing and making aggressive comments about me and moved very smartly away.

Once at the front of course I had no problems as those leading the protest were keen to get press coverage and not involved with the extreme right; when a UKIP EU Election candidate tried to make a political speech he was given very short shrift and hustled away, by people shouting “No Politics“.

The protesters feel strongly that the soldiers who served in the Troubles should be protected from what they see as unfair prosecutions – as the government have made clear that those who served in operations in other countries such as Iraq will be. It does seem hard to argue that those who served in Northern Ireland should be treated differently from those who served in overseas conflicts.

What really would I think be even more important than bringing the few guilty individuals to trials which may or may not find them guilty – and after so many years it must be difficult to find really convincing evidence despite their guilt – is for there to be a proper recognition of the institutional culture, prejudices and shortcomings that lay behind their actions and which allowed them to be covered up for 47 years – and I suspect may still operate to prevent a true verdict being obtained in any prosecution – and for effective action to be taken to correct these.

The Stephen Lawrence case made clear and public the institutional racism of the Metropolitan Police, and led to some actions to oppose this, though clearly much more still needs to be done. The deaths at Deepcut Barracks revealed the the toxic culture in the Army and much more needs to be done to combat this.

More about the protest and more pictures: Veterans demand end of NI prosecutions.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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