Bloody Sunday report: 38 years on, justice at last
Resource type: News
The Guardian | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]
By Henry McDonald and Owen Bowcott. After a 38-year struggle for truth and justice campaigners for those killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday tonight celebrated the Saville Report’s exoneration of the victims and the report’s unequivocal conclusion that the shootings were “unjustified”.
The Bloody Sunday tribunal’s repeated use of the term “unjustifiable” throughout the 5,000-page report, and its verdict that soldiers had lied to the inquiry, now opens up the possibility of legal action against former troops involved in the atrocity.
Fourteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by the Parachute Regiment which had been sent into Derry’s Bogside on 30 January 1972. The deaths propelled a generation of nationalists into the Provisional IRA.
Saville’s conclusion that none of the 14 dead was carrying a gun, no warnings were given, no soldiers were under threat and the troops were the first to open fire, marked a final declaration of innocence for the victims of the biggest British military killing of civilians on UK soil since the Peterloo massacre in 1819.
Northern Ireland‘s director of public prosecutions confirmed tonight that he was considering whether prosecutions for murder, perjury or perverting the course of justice could arise from the report.
Sir Alasdair Fraser QC will be asked to assess the report to decide whether there is sufficient evidence for “a reasonable prospect for conviction” of paratroopers found to have participated in the killings.
Lord Gifford QC, who represented the family of civil rights marcher Jim Wray who died on Bloody Sunday, said: “There are a number of possible charges arising from this report which has been thorough and even-handed. Murder is of course the obvious one. But the report also found that soldiers deliberately attempted to mislead the inquiry.”
As David Cameron announced the findings and apologised on behalf of the British state, a crowd of up to 10,000 people watching his statement on a television screen in Derry’s Guildhall Square cheered wildly.
“I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world,” Cameron told the Commons.
“But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”
It was a previous Tory prime minister, Ted Heath, whose troops carried out the massacre in the bloodiest year of the Troubles.
In a measured and dispassionate report Saville, a supreme court judge, concluded there was no justification for shooting at any of those killed or wounded on the banned civil rights march.
“None of the firing by the Support Company (Paratroopers) was aimed at people posing a threat or causing death or serious injury,” he said. “Despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.”
A copy of the discredited 1972 report by Lord Widgery, which accused the victims of firing weapons or handling bombs, was torn apart by one of the families’ representatives in Derry . “My brother was running away from the soldiers when he was shot,” Joe Duddy said of his brother, Jackie. “He was posing no threat. [The Widgery report] destroyed our loved ones’ good names. Today we clear them. I’m delighted to say that Jackie was innocent.”
Saville’s 10-volume report also found that some of the paratroopers who gave evidence to the tribunal had lied to it.
It said these soldiers had “knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.
But the report did not find any conspiracy in the government or in the higher echelons of the army to use lethal force against either rioters or demonstrators in Derry. The shootings “were not the result of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders”, the report said.
During the 12-year tribunal a number of players in the peace process testified including Martin McGuinness, who admitted that at the time of Bloody Sunday he was the IRA’s second-in-command in Derry. McGuinness “was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun” but it was insufficient evidence that he actually fired the weapon, Saville said.
Although Republican gunmen from the Official IRA took up firing positions, the report said, it was the soldiers who fired first and the paramilitaries’ presence provided no justification for them doing so.
The report appeared to exonerate the army’s then commander of land forces, in Northern Ireland General Robert Ford, of any blame. He had agreed to deploy the Parachute Regiment in the city against the advice of a senior police officer in Derry.
The report concluded that Ford “neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day”.
There was strong criticism of Lt Colonel Derek Wilford, the officer directly in charge of the paratroopers. Wilford ignored orders from his brigadier that he should not order troops beyond a barrier deeper into the Bogside, the report said.
The operation was “not a justifiable response to a lethal attack by republican paramilitaries but instead soldiers opening fire unjustifiably,” the report said.
Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK director, said: “The right to redress of the victims and their families is only partly met by establishing the facts about what happened that day; full accountability for any unlawful actions by state agents will also need to be ensured.”
But Stephen Pollard, a solicitor representing soldiers who gave evidence to the inquiry, said Saville did not have any justification for his findings and said he would fight any moves to prosecute the soldiers. “The evidence has been cherry-picked. I think Lord Saville felt under considerable pressure to give very clear findings even when the evidence did not support it,” Pollard said.