Read more: Gerry Adams calls for new inquiry into Para Regiment over Belfast deaths
The British government has apologized to the family of a 12-year-old girl murdered by a Parachute Regiment soldier in Northern Ireland in 1976 – but no new criminal action is likely to be taken.
The family of Majella O’Hare, shot in the back at an army checkpoint on her way to confession in her home village of Whitecross 25 years ago, has welcomed the apology.
But some observers are believed to be surprised that Private Michael Williams will probably escape any further criminal charges despite the British government’s acceptance that his original court testimony was ‘unlikely’.
A non-jury Diplock Court acquitted Pte Williams of manslaughter after he claimed he had opened fire on an IRA sniper.
Now the British government has apologized to the O’Hare family in a letter from defence secretary Liam Fox which was delivered to Majella’s mother Mary by Northern Secretary Owen Paterson.
Fox wrote: “I apologies for Majella’s death and offer you my heartfelt sympathy.
“Although many years have passed, I have no doubt that your grief and that of your family has not diminished. Both the initial investigation by the RUC and the more recent review have concluded that it was unlikely that there was a gunman in the area when the soldier involved opened fire and struck Majella, as he claimed.
“The soldier’s actions resulted in the loss of a young and innocent life, causing sorrow and anguish for those who knew and loved Majella.
“On behalf of the army and the government I am profoundly sorry that this tragic incident should have happened.”
Calls for an official British policy first surfaced after the Ulster police enquiry charged with examining nearly 3,300 cold cases from the Troubles, investigated the original police case which had recommended that Pte Williams be tried for manslaughter.
The HET enquiry found: “The original RUC investigation found that Pte Michael Williams was not returning fire at a gunman as he claimed and they recommended to prosecutors that he be charged with manslaughter.
“The prosecutors agreed and charged him with manslaughter, but he was acquitted. The HET supports the findings of the original investigation. We also said the RUC investigation was thorough and good.”
Majella’s brother Michael welcomed the apology from the British government on behalf of the O’Hare family.
“It is not closure, but we have moved along the way. It has been a long time coming. It still does not avoid the fact that Majella is dead as a result of their actions.”
The O’Hare family is not looking for a fresh case against Williams, now elderly and in health so poor he would not make a reliable witness.
Meanwhile a leading human rights group in Britain has told the Irish Times that further apologies are likely from the UK government in relation to the Troubles.
Jane Winter, director of British-Irish Rights Watch, said: “I think a wind of change is blowing and politicians have finally begun to realize that the sky does not fall in when you apologies for having done something wrong. In fact it makes things better.
“There are clearly many cases which deserve an apology or, more accurately, some kind of acknowledgment that what happened was wrong. I am hopeful that there may be a few more down the line.”
Just last June, British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized in parliament for the actions of the parachute regiment on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.
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