Relief and vindication in Derry at findings in 5,000-page report

 

THE REPORT:THERE WAS a palpable sense of relief and vindication in Derry last night after Lord Saville’s inquiry into Bloody Sunday exonerated the victims, switched the blame onto the British army and discredited Lord Widgery’s initial report that tarnished the dead and injured.

Lord Saville, in a monumental report of more than 5,000 pages, was categorical and unambiguous in ruling that the shooting dead of 13 people by the British parachute regiment on January 30th, 1972, was totally unjustified.

He accused soldiers of ill-discipline, of lying, of contravening the rules for using weapons, of killing when they were under no threat, and of not issuing any warnings. His findings overturned the 1972 Widgery report which cleared the British army of culpability and cast serious doubt over the innocence of the victims.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said yesterday was the day “when the truth has been set free in the city of Derry”.

None of those killed including the 14th victim John Johnston who died in June 1972 posed a threat to the British army during the civil rights demonstration 38 years ago, Lord Saville found. “None of the firing by the soldiers of support company (of the parachute regiment) was aimed at people posing a threat of causing death and serious injury,” he said.

Of the 14 people, up to 11 were killed by soldiers who were under no threat and were acting without “fear or panic”. In three killings he found it could be argued soldiers acted out of a sense of fear but again none of the killings was in any way justified.

The first shots were fired by the British army, Lord Saville found, although shortly afterwards an Official IRA sniper fired a shot that hit a drainpipe. This action had no bearing on the shootings carried out by the British soldiers.

Lord Saville also found some of the soldiers killed or wounded a number of people, with one anonymous soldier, lance corporal F responsible for up to six killings. He found that many soldiers lied in their evidence to his tribunal.

He also blamed Lt Colonel Wilford, who was in command of 1 Para of the parachute regiment, of disobeying orders by sending soldiers of the support company into the Bogside where the shootings took place.

Lord Saville made no ruling as to whether any of the killings were unlawful or whether any of the soldiers should be prosecuted but the PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott is to meet the North’s head of the Public Prosecution Service Sir Alasdair Fraser shortly on the matter.

Lord Saville concluded Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA and “exacerbated” the violent conflict that would continue to the 1990s. “Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”

The families’ sense of vindication was strengthened by the strong apology issued by the British prime minister David Cameron in the House of Commons.

In saying “sorry” on behalf of the British government and people Mr Cameron said he was “deeply patriotic” and never wanted to believe anything bad about his country or its soldiers and army.

“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,” he said.

Taoiseach Mr Cowen said the “brave and honest words” of Mr Cameron would “echo around the world”.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – whom Lord Saville said was “probably” carrying a sub-machine gun on Bloody Sunday, although nothing he did contributed to the actions of the British soldiers – complimented Mr Cameron on his “generous” statement. Last night, again denying carrying a Thompson sub-machine gun, he said the report and Mr Cameron’s reaction to it, would help cement the peace and political process.

Former SDLP leader John Hume said the world now knew the truth that the city always knew. “The people of Derry once again showed that they have stood shoulder to shoulder with the families by turning out in such huge numbers to witness this declaration of total innocence. Today is a day when the truth has won out.”