Bloody Sunday: Unjustified and unjustifiable
BRITISH paratroopers stood condemned last night after the long-awaited inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings found they opened fire on unarmed civilians as they tended the wounded.
• Relatives of victims of the Bloody Sunday shootings celebrate the findings of the inquiry outside the Guildhall in Londonderry yesterday. Picture: PA
In a report that criticised the army's actions in devastating fashion, the Saville Inquiry concluded soldiers later gave false accounts of their actions to try to cover their tracks, having fired on innocents who posed no threat.
Lord Saville of Newdigate exonerated the 14 people who were killed, after decades of controversy over whether or not they had been carrying weapons on Sunday, 30 January, 1972, the fateful day that was to inflame nationalist anger against the army and act as a recruiting sergeant for the Provisional IRA.
The Prime Minister admitted the ten-volume, 5,000-page report made "shocking" reading and said he was "deeply, deeply sorry" about the events of 38 years ago, describing the soldiers' actions as "unjustified and unjustifiable". David Cameron's apology was later endorsed by the head of the British Army, General Sir David Richards, the chief of the general staff.
There were hopes last night that the report would draw a line under one of the most contentious and tragic events of the Northern Ireland conflict.
But fears British soldiers might face prosecution as a result of the investigation caused disquiet amongst unionist politicians. They were also uneasy about evidence suggesting Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein deputy first minister, was "probably" carrying a machine gun on the day of the violence.
However, the findings of the report, which was ordered by Tony Blair in 1998 as part of the peace process that eventually led to the political settlement in Northern Ireland, were greeted with extraordinary scenes in Londonderry, where thousands of cheering nationalists gathered to welcome its publication. Flying beside the city's Guildhall were banners featuring the faces of those who were killed, while families of the victims proclaimed their loved ones' innocence.
Earlier, a crowd had retraced the steps of the original civil rights march from the city's Bogside, where many of the victims were killed when paratroopers opened fire on protesters demonstrating against the internment policy of the early 1970s that saw the arrest without trial of republican paramilitary suspects.
In his report, Lord Saville said: "What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed.
"Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."
After huge concerns about his inquiry's 195 million cost, Lord Saville finally found that "on balance" the first bullets were fired by soldiers, despite long-standing claims that the soldiers had been shot at first.
Some of those who were killed or wounded were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying.
The investigation found the soldiers of the support company who went into the Bogside did so "as a result of an order which should not have been given" by their commander.
Lord Saville concluded the commanding officer of the paratroopers, Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford, had disobeyed an order from a superior officer, Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, not to send troops into the nationalist estate. Lord Saville placed no blame on the brigadier, saying if he had known what Lt-Col Wilford was intending, he might well have called it off.
The findings of the Saville investigation contradicted many aspects of the Widgery report, produced after an inquiry ordered by the British government in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, which largely cleared the soldiers and that Catholics had regarded as a whitewash.
According to the Widgery report, some of the victims had been armed. Lord Saville said it was "probable" that one victim, Gerald Donaghey,17, had been carrying nail bombs, but none of the casualties had had firearms. There was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, but "none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties".
Lord Saville said no warning had been given by the soldiers before they opened fire and that the support company "reacted by losing their self-control … forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training". The result, he found, was a "serious and widespread loss of fire discipline".
Afterwards, some of the soldiers involved "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing" when they gave evidence to the inquiry.
The Prime Minister said it would be up to Northern Ireland's independent Public Prosecution Service to decide if any criminal case ought to be pursued.
In the House of Commons, the question of immunity for the soldiers was raised, and Mr Cameron referred members to an undertaking given at the outset of the inquiry, when the then attorney general said evidence given by witnesses could not be used to "prejudice" them in "any criminal proceedings … except proceedings where he or she is charged with having given false evidence". That would appear to suggest the door remains open for soldiers to be tried for perjury or for other evidence to be taken into account. Families may also consider civil actions.
Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist Party MP for Belfast North, warned the report could be used "as a springboard for more years of agitation in terms of prosecutions".
The actions of Mr McGuinness, then an IRA commander, also caused unionist concern. Lord Saville found he was "probably armed with a sub-machine gun" but did not engage in "any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire".
Mr McGuinness's denial that he had a weapon did not placate unionists, who demanded to know what he was doing on Bloody Sunday.
The 14 victims – and how they died
• Patrick Doherty, 31. The father of six was shot from behind as he attempted to crawl to safety.
• Gerald Donaghey, 17. Controversy has surrounded the question of whether the IRA youth member was armed with nail bombs when shot in the abdomen. Four were found in his pockets after his death, but witnesses who tended to him said they had found nothing suspicious on his person, prompting claims the bombs had been planted.
• John "Jackie" Duddy, 17. The first to be killed. He was running away when he was shot in the chest. Lord Saville said he probably had a stone in his hand at the time.
• Hugh Gilmour, 17. The talented footballer was hit with a single shot as he ran away. The solider who fired at him – Private U – claimed he had aimed at a man with a handgun. But a photo showed no evidence of a weapon.
• Michael Kelly, 17. Shot once in the abdomen by a soldier 80 yards away.
• Michael McDaid, 20. The barman died instantly after being shot in the face.
• Kevin McElhinney, 17. Shot from behind.
• Bernard McGuigan, 41. The father of six was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty, waving a white handkerchief, when he was shot in the head with a single round. Witnesses claimed he was unarmed.
• Gerard McKinney, 35. The father of eight was running close behind Gerald Donaghey when the bullet that killed them both hit him first.
• William "Willie" McKinney, 27 (not related to Gerard). The keen amateur film-maker recorded scenes from the march with his hand-held cine camera before the shooting started. The camera was found in his jacket pocket as he lay dying after being shot in the back in Glenfada Park.
• William Nash, 19. The dockworker was hit by a single bullet to the chest.
• James Wray, 22. Engaged to be married, the civil rights activist was shot twice in the back. The second shot was fired as he lay mortally wounded.
• John Young, 17. The menswear shop clerk was killed instantly with a single shot to the head at the rubble barricade.
• John Johnston, 59. The draper was shot twice by soldiers positioned inside a derelict building in William Street. He died four months later in hospital.
• Bloody Sunday: Mixed reactions in divided city after 38-year wait ends in TV apology
• Bloody Sunday: Ten minutes of gunfire lit fuse for Troubles
• Peter Geoghegan: Warm welcome in Derry as 'truth is set free' after 38 years
• Clive Fairweather: Prosecutions would take toll on army morale, but is it right to do nothing?
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