Bloody Sunday compensation could open door for other payouts
Families of those killed on all sides during the Troubles may take up civil claims once this precedent is set.
Belfast in 1978. Victims of state violence and paramilitaries on both sides during the Troubles may now seek compensation.
Costing nearly £200m, the Bloody Sunday investigation was the most expensive and longest running inquiry in British legal history.
Amounting to millions of words the inquiry laid out in scientific detail the minute by minute events on that fateful day in January 1972 which led to the biggest massacre of civilians by the British military since Peterloo.
The shooting dead of 13 unarmed civilians (a 14th died in hospital) following a civil rights march left an indelible scar on the city and drove hundreds, perhaps thousands of young recruits into the arms of the Provisional IRA.
For three decades, the families of those who died fought a dogged campaign to clear the names of the victims and to establish an internationally recognised tribunal into the atrocity carried out by the Parachute Regiment.
But when David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons in June 2010 and roundly condemned the killings labelling them "wrong", his historic statement seemed to draw some kind of line under the past.
The fact that it was a Conservative prime minister who had acknowledged the innocence of those that died on Bloody Sunday was all the more poignant given that it was a previous Tory government under Ted Heath that had ordered the paratroopers into Derry's Bogside that day.
Now the Ministry of Defence has said that it will be compensating those families and victims still around after nearly four decades.
On a practical level the compensation process may be complicated because many of those wounded on Bloody Sunday are dead and even some relatives of those killed have themselves passed away.
The figures available will of course be much more than the hundreds of pounds the army paid out back in the 1970s to some of the families without the military accepting any blame.
Moreover, the payouts will focus wider attention on other potential compensation areas – eg from victims of state violence during the Troubles.
Those directly injured or who had loved ones shot dead by the British army may also seek recompense once the Bloody Sunday payouts commence.
That picture would be complicated further if the families of those killed by loyalist paramilitaries seek compensation.
Those who argue that the police or army colluded or helped the loyalists target them or their loved ones could also sue the state once this precedent is set.
On the other side, some victims of terrorist organisations have attempted to sue suspected paramilitary leaders in the civil courts most notably the families of the Omagh bomb victims.
They successfully used a landmark civil action against several Real IRA suspects whom they were able to name and shame through the courts.
Although in this case the Omagh families were less concerned with compensation but rather a desire to get to the truth about the 1998 massacre – the single biggest of the Troubles.
Separately, there have also been moves by victims injured in IRA bombs and attacks to sued the now-toppled regime of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Libya over the dictators' logistical support for the IRA.
It is expected the new Libyan government will compensate these victims in the near future.
Finally, the prospect of deputy first minister for Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness as president of Ireland following October's election in the Republic also holds out an interesting prospect.
Were the former IRA chief-of-staff to become president, would unionist victims of the IRA seek retrospectively to sue him and the state he would head for crimes committed while he was an IRA commander?