Ireland: New evidence suggests Bloody Sunday deliberate

April 5, 2000


Ireland: New evidence suggests Bloody Sunday deliberate

By Alec Smart

LONDON — The recent release of a secret 1972 memorandum, recommending the shooting of ringleaders to deter insurrection in Derry, Northern Ireland, suggests that the British army's violent policy of dealing with Catholic nationalists precipitated the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre.

On Sunday, January 30, 1972, British soldiers from the 1st Parachute Regiment and the 8th Infantry Brigade opened fire on a civil rights march of 10,000 in Derry. Thirteen unarmed Catholics were killed on the spot, another died later from his injuries and a further 13 were seriously wounded, one a woman crushed against a wall by a British army personnel carrier. Six of the fourteen killed were teenagers.

A subsequent inquiry conducted by Lord Chief Justice Widgery suggested that the paratroopers were responding to fire from Irish Republican Army (IRA) operatives and the British army was effectively exonerated.

Now a secret memo shows that the officer in command of land troops in Northern Ireland, Major-General Robert Ford, recommended to his superior officer, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Tuzo, that shooting ringleaders was a method to deal with Catholic rioters in the "no-go" Creggan and Bogside estates.

The Bogside and Creggan areas of Derry had been barricaded by residents since July 1971, following the deaths of two men shot by soldiers. Dubbing the nationalist stone-throwers Derry's Young Hooligans (DYH), Ford recommended, "I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders among the DYH, after clear warnings have been given".

He further suggested modification of rifles to take smaller bullets "to enable ringleaders to be engaged with less lethal ammunition". Just prior to the civil rights march, Ford despatched 30 of these altered rifles to Derry for training purposes.

New inquiry

At the time of the memo, three weeks before Bloody Sunday, the British army was under intense political pressure from the British and Northern Irish parliaments to restore discipline in the Catholic enclaves, whose citizens were not cowed by the soldiers, CS gas, water cannons, internment without trial or rubber bullets.

Protestant business leaders had met with Ford, bemoaning the fact that rioting Catholic youths had cost them £4 million in lost revenue and damage.

Ford considered that his soldiers would be justified in opening fire with live rounds, but was concerned that the self-loading rifles' high-velocity 7.62mm bullets would pass straight through one person's body and retain sufficient force to kill another. Rifles were modified to take smaller .22in bullets.

A new inquiry, presided over by Lord Saville of Newdigate, commenced on March 27. Saville directed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to resubmit the rifles used in Bloody Sunday for forensic analysis.

There were 29 rifles originally available to Widgery Inquiry in 1972. Fourteen were later destroyed, another 10 sold to private companies. Despite assurances that the remaining rifles would be available to the new inquiry, three of the last five were mysteriously destroyed by the MoD in January.

Shooting gallery

During the massacre, British paratroopers had ignored white hankies waved whilst snipers from the 8th Infantry Brigade sat atop Derry Walls and picked off people fleeing in terror. The street adjacent to Rossville Flats became a shooting gallery, raked by gunfire from both ends. Soldiers were seen firing from the hip.

The Widgery Inquiry, however, found that they had used "minimum force necessary and fired only in defence at identifiable targets". The army disclosed that 108 rounds were fired, although civilian observers suggested the figure was nearer 800.

Within days of the deaths in Derry, more than 500 witness testimonies were accumulated, so as to be presented to the Widgery Inquiry, but only 15 of these were considered as evidence. No soldier was ever charged as a result, and the paratroopers' commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford, was decorated the following year by the British queen, who honoured him with a knighthood.

Widgery also found, "The parachute regiment was fired at 25 times and returned fire 18 times ... engaged in fire with nine bombers and nine gunmen ... in general the accounts given by the soldiers of the circumstances in which they fired and the reasons they did so were, in my opinion, truthful."

The Widgery Inquiry's finding that there was strong suspicion that the victims had handled weapons or bombs has lacked credibility and convinced few. Even 17-year-old victim Gerard Donaghy, who was said to be carrying nail bombs, can be shown to have had them planted on him after his death, for if one was in his pocket as alleged, it would have been hit by the bullet that killed him.

In September, one of the two senior scientists who submitted that forensic tests upon victim James Wray were consistent with his having used a firearm revised his original conclusions.

Reporting on how traces of lead on victims' hands were interpreted as meaning they had been handling munitions, he told the preliminary scientific review of the Saville Inquiry, "I now believe that, where a test proved positive, this could have resulted from contamination from other sources such as motor exhausts, which at that time were not fully evaluated".


The MoD has objected to the new Saville Inquiry on the grounds that individual soldiers may be prosecuted.

A year after the shootings, the MoD was advised by the then attorney-general, Sir Peter Rawlinson, that the Crown would have no prospect of a successful defence if families of the four victims shot in the enclosed courtyard of Glenfada Park were to lodge claims for compensation. As a result, an ex-gratia payment was made to the families in 1974, who settled on the advice of their solicitors.

In a High Court ruling on June 17, seventeen soldiers, most of them paratroopers, who shot dead the victims of Bloody Sunday were granted anonymity when giving evidence. This overturned an earlier decision in May requiring they reveal their names in the interests of open and public justice.

The two-to-one majority decision infuriated the relatives of the victims. Solicitor Peter Madden, who represents 11 of the 14 families, said "We do not see why soldiers who have been involved in the killings should have anonymity. They should be able to come and tell the inquiry openly what they did. We are not interested in recrimination. All the families want is truth."

The court had been swayed by a risk assessment from the security service MI5, who insisted that the 17 were at significant risk of reprisal attacks. It is rare in criminal trials for the witness/es to be granted anonymity; even the names of informers are usually divulged.

Only one soldier's name has ever been divulged to the public and his testimony asserts that there was indiscriminate shooting on the day. Known to the new inquiry as soldier 027, he affirms that during the army briefing the night before, they were ordered to get some kills. Other names have found their way onto internet sites or long been known to the families concerned.

This does not include senior officers whose names are already in the public domain. One of these was the captain and adjutant to the 1st Battalion of the Paratroop Regiment, Michael Jackson, now knighted and a general in command of KFOR troops in Kosovo.


The army's information officer, Colonel Maurice Tugwell, who issued a televised press statement after Bloody Sunday saying that eight of the victims were wanted by security forces, publicly retracted this in January 1998 when the new inquiry was announced.

Colonel Tugwell has since been outed as having been working for a Lisburn-based psy-ops (psychological operations) unit, an army propaganda unit that conducted disinformation activities under the guise of press information.

Recordings of army and police radio traffic on the day have also been made available to the new inquiry, including conversations between troops engaging in the shooting and their commanding officers.

The British army's continuing justification for Bloody Sunday rests upon the assertion that they were engaged in a firefight with the IRA.

The IRA, who were then in the midst of splitting into Officials and Provisionals, have always insisted that although both units were operating in Derry on the day, they were not in a position to fire until after the British army had ceased shooting, when they could access weaponry held in the Creggan estate. The Officials admitted one authorised and seven unauthorised shots had been fired afterwards.

The British army has never been able to prove otherwise.

Unfortunately, it will now be extremely difficult to ascertain the range from which the soldiers fired, with only old photographs and dubious scientific evidence to go on. And, given the MoD's apparent willingness to destroy evidence (the three rifles), there seems little chance that it won't seek to obstruct justice in other ways.

Whatever the results of the new tribunal, the British government will likely absolve the soldiers' actions on the day. The British state demands a monopoly on violence — to challenge that authority is to risk extra-judicial execution, however justifiable your cause.

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