The massacre occurred during the Troubles, the decades-long sectarian fight over the status of Northern Ireland; Protestant loyalists wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom, while Catholic nationalists sought to form a united Ireland. The conflict mostly ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreement, a peace accord reached by the British and Irish governments and several political groups from Northern Ireland that halted the violence and defined Northern Ireland’s current system of government. More than 3,600 people died in the conflict.
An inquiry launched shortly after Bloody Sunday—and later considered a “whitewash”—cleared the British army of wrongdoing and said the protesters were armed. A second inquiry, established in 1998 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and led by jurist Lord Saville, exonerated the victims. The findings, published in 2010, determined the demonstrators posed no threat to the British army and that soldiers “lost control” and fired without warning. The report also found that some of those killed or injured were attempting to flee or help the injured. When the results were released, Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” killings. In 2011, the British government announced it would pay compensation to the relatives of the victims.
A New York Times account from the day after the massacre described the scene at Londonderry. One person present said:
The speakers threw themselves to the platform and I shouted for people to keep down. I could see the army systematically picking off people who had got up to run away. There was complete panic and confusion, and I thought the best thing I could do was to tend to the injured with a friend. I was carrying a white pillowcase. We were both fired on and my friend was hit on the side of the face.
Tuesday’s arrest was made by a branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that was given the task in January of investigating unsolved murder cases dating from the beginning of the Troubles until 2004, according to the BBC.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday, told the Times Tuesday that “all of the families of the victims are very excited” by the arrest and that “we expect all of the rest of those responsible to be brought in and prosecuted.” Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was killed, told the BBC that “there is a flicker of hope. It’s a very positive step.”