British chief of defence accepts findings

 

BRITISH ARMY REACTION:THE BRITISH army’s most senior officer has accepted the Saville inquiry’s findings that paratroopers killed 13 people in Derry on Bloody Sunday and wounded many more without just cause.

Lawyers for some of the soldiers, who could yet face prosecution, claimed, however, that the findings “flew in the face of much of the evidence” given to the 12-year-long inquiry.

Fully supporting the apology given by British prime minister David Cameron, Gen Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, said he agreed with Lord Saville’s judgment that the Bloody Sunday shootings had been “a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Lessons had been learnt quickly from Bloody Sunday and the “overwhelming majority” of the 250,000 British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles had “conducted themselves with utter professionalism, restraint and humanity”.

A total of 651 were dead and 6,000 wounded, he said. “They played an important role in protecting the people of Northern Ireland, providing much needed stability and thereby helping to set the conditions for the peace [it] enjoys today.” Mindful of the danger of future prosecutions, none of the soldiers involved in the shootings reacted to the inquiry, though Stephen Pollard, lawyer for some of them, claimed that Lord Saville “felt under very considerable pressure after 12 years and £191 million to give a report which gave very clear findings, even in truth where the evidence didn’t support them”.

Mr Pollard said one soldier had been shown to have fired 19 shots on the day, but has not been identified by the inquiry as being responsible for killing anyone: “How does [Saville] know which bullets killed the men?”

The soldiers had accepted from the inquiry’s beginning that those who died had not fired upon them, he said. “The situation was very confused there and then. But what is at issue here is their perception of the threat that they were facing,” said Mr Pollard.

Retired general Sir Mike Jackson, who served as adjutant to first battalion of the parachute regiment on the day, concentrated on the contribution made by British soldiers throughout the Troubles.

Joining in Mr Cameron’s apology, Gen Jackson said: “I recall that nearly 40 years ago in NI the situation was grim. Northern Ireland today is a very different place to what it was those 40 years ago, not least because of those sacrifices.”