Army snipers 'did not spot a single gunman'

 

The British army's wall of snipers on Bloody Sunday did not spot a single gunman during the main shootings, the Saville Inquiry has been told.

Marksmen had their sights trained on the junction of William Street and Rossville Street, known locally as Aggro Corner, because that was an expected flashpoint on the January 30th, 1972 Derry civil rights march.

British paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed men that day, in a seven-minute burst of gunfire they claim was triggered by being attacked by IRA men.

Another expected trouble spot - the Rossville Flats - was covered by army snipers who were also scanning the barricades for any violent flare-ups.

Gen Sir Robert Ford, who as Commander of Land Forces was in charge of the army's day-to-day operations, told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry yesterday he was not surprised that the army's "counter-snipers" did not spot any gunmen or bombers during the main shootings.

Mr Arthur Harvey QC, representing many of the bereaved families, asked Sir Robert: "Is it not surprising, if there was a gun battle, with the IRA out in the open for the first time in Derry, that not one sniper was able to have an identifiable target on even one occasion?"

Sir Robert Ford replied: "At the time apparently not, but now of course." He was not expecting heavy IRA gunfire because of the "very large number" of snipers who were deployed. The media were on site and had been strongly briefed about the situation, which was unlikely to have happened if a gun battle was expected, he said.

Sir Robert added: "I was generally of the opinion that the precautions we had taken with matched counter-snipers. . .would be very likely to be sufficient on the day to prevent the IRA starting up."

Sir Robert said he was "extremely saddened" after seeing a photograph of the crumpled bodies of three victims lying in a gutter for the first time. He was shown a black and white photograph of the aftermath of shooting in the Glenfada Park area.

Sir Robert was shown the photograph at the end of 40 minutes of persistent questioning, in which he was asked to justify the bloodshed by paras who had entered the Bogside no-go area for a mass arrest of rioters.

Lord Gifford QC, representing the family of victim Jim Wray, said: "The man that I represent was shot twice in the back. The second shot most likely, according to the forensic evidence, being caused when he was on the ground. Can anything justify that as an appropriate response?"

As bereaved relatives looked on from a few yards away, Sir Robert replied: "Although I know nothing of the evidence concerned, of course I am extremely saddened to see what you have just shown me in that photograph, which I had not seen before."

Sir Robert maintained there had been nothing sinister behind the plan to send in the paras.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday. - (PA)