Two Books About Bloody Sunday, and the case of Soldier F

Second paragraph of third chapter of Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, by Julieann Campbell:

Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary was the launch of Eamonn McCann’s book, Bloody Sunday: What Happened in Derry, commissioned by the Sunday Initiative (BSI) and published by Brandon Books. Regarded as one of the seminal books on the issue, McCann’s book helped to renew interest in Bloody Sunday and contained a background analysis of the events leading up to the killings. Most remarkable was the series of interviews with relatives and friends, conducted by Maureen Shiels and Bridie Hannigan of the local Women’s Living History Circle. In these, family members talked candidly about the lives of the killed and wounded men and boys, painting a personal portrait of each and giving an identity to names.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Enquiry, by Douglas Murray:

Hovering in that clear blue sky was an army helicopter. And in it was a young surveillance officer known to the Saville Inquiry as INQ 2030. From this vantage point he could see over the whole of the Bogside. Years later he recorded what events looked like from up there. ‘I can recall seeing lots and lots of people on the ground, perhaps as many as five or ten thousand. They appeared to be congregating in one particular spot. All of a sudden, there was a burst of activity. People began running in all directions and the crowd effectively scattered. I can think of no better way to describe it than the effect that dropping a stone on an ants’ nest would have. It was almost as if the people on the ground had disappeared although I could see them hiding behind walls and buildings.’

Two very different books about the same awful event, both of which are at least as much about the Saville Inquiry as they are about the events of 30 January 1972. I have actually read the complete Bloody Sunday report, and reviewed it at some length on this blog back in 2010 (Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX and Volume X and conclusions). In the last couple of months it has been announced that just one of the soldiers who killed 14 innocent people will be prosecuted, and that prompted me to refresh my recollection and also to look into the perspectives of two rather different commentators.

Julieann Campbell never knew her uncle, Jackie Duddy, who was killed at the age of 17 on Bloody Sunday, the first person to be shot dead by the Paras. (Specifically, by Private R.) She was born four years later, and grew up to be a journalist and the press officer for the Bloody Sunday families during the inquiry. She does not put herself into the narrative, however, telling instead the story of how the campaign developed from being a fringe concern and distraction from the overall political picture to a major political issue which Tony Blair felt compelled to yield on in order to facilitate the peace process. It was a terribly hard slog for the families to reach the point where they could be heard, and the early days of finding sympathetic lawyers who were prepared to go hunt for the archival evidence in order to write yet another paper which would be ritually ignored by the authorities were very tough. One person who comes in for considerable praise, to a certain extent against expectations, is John Bruton in his role as Taoiseach from 1995-97, elevating the issue to the point where his successor could not let it drop. It’s a one-sided narrative, but it’s the side whose story was suppressed by the authorities for many years, and it deserved to be told. The book won the Ewart-Biggs Prize, very deservedly.

Douglas Murray is a right-wing journalist, and his book partly reflects that perspective; it’s a series of snapshots of individuals who gave evidence (or should have) to the Saville enquiry. This is not always successful. The chapters on Edward Heath, Bernadette McAliskey and Martin McGuinness don’t really tell us much about them; each stonewalled the enquiry in different ways, and it’s quite difficult to tell a story about people not talking. The chapter on the British intelligence source codenamed “Infliction” gets way too mesmerised by the supposed glamour of intelligence-gathering. His chapter on the IRA is mainly gossip which confuses the Officials and Provisionals, though there is one amusing detail, that a leading Official IRA member, who Saville would have liked to hear from, was actually selling cigarette lighters at a stall outside the Guildhall until he died in 2003.

But there are three very good chapters here, and they are all about the soldiers who carried out the shooting on Bloody Sunday. One tantalising suggestion is that Soldier G, who is known to be now dead and was Soldier F’s partner in murder on the day, ended up as one of the mercenaries killed with Costas Georgiou, “Colonel Callan”, in Angola in 1976. Murray hints that Soldier G may actually have been Georgiou himself, though I think it’s a bit too good to be true.

There is a brutal chapter on Colonel Derek Wilford, whose blind defence of his men in the teeth of the evidence is remarkable. Some extracts are given from Wilford’s ill-advised media interviews, including this jewel of an exchange with Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme (back in 1999 when it was still worth listening to):

DW: I have to ask: what about Bloody Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and every day of the week? What about Bloody Omagh, what about Bloody Warrenpoint, Enniskillen, Hyde Park, Bloody Aldershot and Brighton? Bloody everything the IRA ever touch?
JN: Colonel Wilford, I think you would find it hard to argue that the IRA had had a good press in Britain.

[Michael McKinney, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, is brought into the conversation]

DW: He may represent his dead brother and a very, very tragic situation it is, but I do not accept that he merely represents him. He represents the Republican organisation and we are naive to the point of idiocy to believe otherwise.
JN: Well, can I, Colonel Wilford, I must interrupt you there because Mr McKinney, as you know, is sitting across from me…
DW: No, I didn’t know he was sitting across from you.
JN: Well, he is, I did say he was in the studio. He was shaking his head rather vigorously and I must ask him just on this question. Colonel Wilford has said that you represent a particular strain of Republicanism. Now I just want to put that to you because you’re still here.
MM: Well, that’s totally untrue. I’ve been involved in the Bloody Sunday issue, the Bloody Sunday campaign these past seven years. I’m one of the founder members of that, myself and a number of other relatives are involved in that and we have no links with any Republican organisation at all.
JN: Right. Colonel Wilford, I mean, that’s been said, do you accept it?
DW: No, of course I don’t accept it.
JN: Why not?
DW: Well, because they will all say that, won’t they.

But Murray’s book begins and ends with two brutal chapters on Soldier F, who together with the late Soldier G killed between five and seven of those who died on Bloody Sunday. The first chapter graphically describes F’s murder of Bernard McGuigan, the last person to be killed on Bloody Sunday, and reflects on how memories of such a horrific event can cheat (there is a very gruesome detail involving a detached body part which I won’t describe further). In the second last chapter, Murray looks at how Soldier F’s story that he had fired only at rioters who were attacking him fell apart within hours of Bloody Sunday, and recounts how the inquiry got through his defences and forced him to admit at least some responsibility. Murray doesn’t quote it, but this is the crucial dialogue:

Q. Before your evidence concludes, I think I ought to summarise for you the accusations and allegations that have been raised and which the Tribunal will have to consider and determine.
The allegations are, firstly, that you killed up to four people, possibly even more. Firstly Michael Kelly, and we know, do we not, that you killed him because of the forensic evidence that a bullet from your gun was found in his body?
A. That is correct.
Q. Secondly, you have accepted, in answering questions from Mr Mansfield behind me, that you shot Barry McGuigan, whose photograph, in a pool of blood, you have seen; do you remember that?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you also accept that you shot Patrick Doherty on whose behalf you were asked questions this afternoon by Ms McDermott?
A. Yes.
Q. As I have put to you, there is evidence that might lead to the conclusion that you shot William McKinney in Glenfada Park; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. What is alleged in relation to each of those four people is that you shot them without justification, that is to say, that you murdered them; do you follow?
A. I follow, it is not correct, but I follow, yes.
Q. And you say that it is not correct, because?
A. Because, as I refer to my statements, the people I shot were either petrol bombers or a person who had a weapon.
Q. I also put to you that you may have wounded Joe Mahon, the boy whose body is on the ground behind William McKinney’s in Glenfada Park. The suggestion is also that you may have wounded the two others who were wounded below the Rossville Flats; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. Is there anything that you can say about that or would wish to say about that?
A. No.

Soldier F, as we know, is to now be prosecuted for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell, all of which took place in Glenfada Park North. The Public Prosecution Service issued an unusually detailed statement about why they have in the end chosen to initiate proceedings against only one of the Bloody Sunday soldiers, and why for only a few of the deaths and injuries that he may have caused. It is worth a read. My own concern is that the PPS have chosen not to prosecute Soldier F for the deaths and injuries that Saville thinks he definitely caused (Michael Kelly, Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty, all killed; Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan, both injured), and instead have chosen to prosecute him for deaths and injuries for which Saville found much weaker evidence. Of course Bloody Sunday has now been reinvestigated from first principles by the PSNI, with no reference to Saville and its details. Perhaps they found better evidence for the Glenfada Park North shooting than Saville was able to.

Anyway, both books are well worth reading (the good bits of Murray definitely outweigh the less good bits). You can get them here and here.

Ewart-Biggs Prize winners: Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness | From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull | Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, by Julieann Campbell | The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923, by Charles Townshend | The Whole and Rain-Domed Universe, by Colette Bryce | The Sun is Open, by Gail McConnell

August Books 4) The Bloody Sunday Report, Vol X; and my conclusions

The tenth and last volume of the Blood Sunday Report is lengthy (541 numbered pages) but doen’t really add much substance. The first 36 pages are a two-part appendix, a longish memo about how and to a lesser extent why the Inquiry was set up and then a listing of the lawyers involved; and there then follows another appendix containing Saville’s opening statement, 41 rulings made by the Tribunal in the course of gathering and hearing evidence, and eight court judgements which over-rode the Tribunal’s own rulings. The last three pages are a short bibliography.

The first of these elements is by far the most interesting, explaining the Inquiry’s operations and in particular the difficulties of identifying witnesses (especially former soldiers) after thirty years, and the intricacies of the process of giving evidence. Indeed, most of the second appendix chronicles, in tedious detail, how Saville’s initial (probably over-ambitious) intentions that all, or almost all, hearings should happen in public in Derry, and that the soldiers involved should be identified by surname rather than by cipher, were rolled back by the courts. Saville gets in a barb at this towards the end of the opening memo, when he defends the cost of the whole operation:

There were various judicial reviews and some subsequent appeals. The length and cost of the Inquiry was further increased by moving the sittings from Londonderry to London and back to Londonderry, in consequence of an order by the Court of Appeal.

So it ends.

Well, after 5030 pages, what do I think of it all?

First of all, it was very definitely a worthwhile exercise. The cost was huge, but the cost of failing to address the events of Bloody Sunday in the first place was even greater. It is no exaggeration to say that Bloody Sunday was the single most politically significant act of violence during the entire period of the Troubles. The awful fact that 13 unarmed civilians had been mown down in the streets was exacerbated by the state’s attempts to excuse that awful fact, including the previous inquiry which was set up in its immediate aftermath. On the whole, Saville is discreet about the conduct of the Widgery Inquiry, and almost completely silent about its findings, but at one point the mask slips:

[Appendix 2.8, § 19:] It is clear that the present Inquiry has been instituted because the previous Inquiry did not succeed, for whatever reason, in achieving the general objective of inquiries under the 1921 Act. This objective is, as Lord Justice Salmon said in his report, to restore public confidence where a crisis in that confidence has occurred (see 1966 Cmnd 3121 at paragraph 28). Indeed, there is a substantial body of responsible public opinion to the effect that the Widgery Inquiry, so far from restoring public confidence, compounded the crisis. We consider that our ability to restore confidence will be undermined, unless we can form a wholly independent judgment, based on the facts before us, on the question of anonymity – and indeed on any other questions that we have to consider.

Nobody who reads the 5030 pages of the Saville Inquiry, particularly when compared with the 39 cursory pages of Widgery (dissected by many others in the years since) can doubt that it is a sincere effort to restore that confidence. The whining of the lawyer for the murderous soldiers that Saville ‘cherry-picked’ the evidence simply is not sustainable if you actually read even the initial summary, let alone the entire document.

There is, all the same, room for dispute of some of the findings. I’m not comfortable about the nail-bombs found on Gerard Donaghey’s body; I’m not wholly convinced about the exoneration of the RMP (Saville spends 11 pages in Appendix 2.39 complaining that the victims’ lawyers bungled their examination of this issue); I’m surprised that Saville did not include his devastating conclusions on the illegality of the arrests in the main upfront summary (§3.120 would have been an appropriate place); I think Brigadier McLellan is let off too lightly, and I also agree with my old friend Niall Ó Dochartaigh, who has written both academically and in newspaper articles about Saville’s failure to examine more contextually the role of General Ford. More generally, Saville does not examine – though he drops heavy hints about his views – the overall military culture where you could wander around the Bogside and take pot-shots at civilians in the full knowledge that the moral, legal and political forces of the British state would unconditionally stand behind your actions. I was struck on several occasions that commanding officers would cover up their subordinates’ disobedience by claiming, falsely, that it was all in accordance with their orders. This was true of Lieutenant 119 claiming that Soldiers E, F, G and H advanced to Glenfada Park on their murderous rampage on his instruction, rather than their own initiative; it’s true of Major Loden claiming that all the firing was carried out on his supervision; and it’s true of Brigadier McLellan, claiming in the teeth of the evidence that Colonel Wilford had accurately and precisely carried out the orders he had been given to go into the Bogside in the first place. If the consequences had not been so awful, the loyalty of these officers to those they commanded would be rather laudable.

As mentioned back in Volume VIII, while I appreciate the conclusions on the four senior officers, it would have been good to have expanded that section also with conclusions on the individual soldiers, which are nowhere tabulated. I do that here as follows, more or less in the chronological order adopted by Saville:




Corporal A or Private B 

Damien Donaghey (deliberately)
John Johnston (injured by shoot-through or ricochet)

Private R

Jackie Duddy

Lance Corporal V 

Margaret Deery

Lieutenant N 

Michael Bridge

Private Q 

Michael Bradley

Sergeant O, Private R and/or Private S 

Patrick McDaid
Pius McCarron

Private T or possibly Private S 

Patrick Brolly

Lance Corporal F

Michael Kelly

Corporal P, and possibly Lance Corporal J and/or Corporal E

William Nash
John Young
Michael McDaid

Private U

Hugh Gilmour

Private L or Private M (ordered by Colour Sergeant 002 and/or Corporal 039)

Kevin McElhinney

possibly Corporal P or Lance Corporal J 

Alexander Nash (shot while tending to his dying son William Nash)

Corporal E 

Patrick O’Donnell

Lance Corporal F or Private H

William McKinney

Joe Mahon

Private G or Private H

Jim Wray (shot a second time as he lay dying)

Michael Quinn

Lance Corporal F or Private G



Joe Friel

E, F, G or H 

Daniel Gillespie

Private G

Gerard McKinney
Gerald Donaghey

Lance Corporal F

Bernard McGuigan
Patrick Doherty

Patrick Campbell
Daniel McGowan

Obviously a good day’s work for Lance Corporal F and Private G, who between them killed at least five and maybe seven of the thirteen fatalities, and wounded another two to six. They will, of course, never be prosecuted; nobody will.

I have a couple of other complaints about the presentation of the evidence.

i) There is no map of the overall sequence of events, and while some of the sectors are mapped out in detail, others are not. For that level of cartographical detail you have to go to the Guardian, whose plotting of the fatalities I reproduce here:

This map of course lacks the time dimension. The first fatality was Jackie Duddy, at top right, in the courtyard of the Rossville Flats; then the six near the Rossville Street barricade; then the four in and around Glenfada Park; and finally the two to the south of the Rossville Flats, shot at long range from Glenfada Park. (I considered dotting in the locations of the wounded as well, but my graphic skills are not up to it; there were two at the very beginning near William Street to the north of Columbcille Court, six in the Rossville Flats courtyard, only one at the barricade, five in Glanfada Park North and two more to the south of the flats at the end.)

ii) While the website heroically includes all the text of the report, hyperlinked to the relevant testimony where appropriate, the actual search function on the site is pretty poor – doesn’t seem to include the body of the report, for instance – and it is almost impossible to drill down to find particular nuggets, particularly in the very long documents submitted to the Inquiry by the lawyers. In addition, while apparently the DVD (which I realise I must now buy) does include audio and video files from the day, these have not been put online and are therefore not accessible to the wider public.

iii) The final volume refers (Vol.X, A1.1.90) to

the creation of a virtual reality model of the relevant part of the city [which] contained a photographic panorama of the Bogside as it was in the late 1990s. However, the user could switch to another version in which artists’ impressions of the buildings that had been present in 1972 had been superimposed on the modern panorama. The virtual reality model was used to assist many witnesses. They could use it to identify particular locations and could also, using a stylus on the screen, mark “still” versions of the panorama with arrows or lines in order to pinpoint a particular place. The marked versions could then be preserved for future reference. When in use, the virtual reality images were displayed on the public screens.

A lawyer friend, who knows Saville personally, tells me that he too has seen extracts from this virtual reality system; it would be a shame if it has now been packed away never to be seen by the public.

These are minor quibbles. The report is a triumph of investigation. Its publication was greeted by whining from the Tory right and from some Unionists. (Though not, to do him credit, Lee Reynolds.) But the fact is that British soldiers had slaughtered their fellow citizens, and a truthful accounting was needed. No state handles the violence of its own agents well, and the disgrace of the Widgery report showed how badly the UK can deal with it. (English readers may by now be thinking of the more recent cases of Ian Tomlinson and Jean-Charles de Menezes.) The truth sometimes hurts, especially if it comes 38 years late. But that can be a good thing too.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

August Books 2) The Bloody Sunday Report, Vol IX

Now that the main story and conclusions are done, Volume IX looks at some issues of evidence and legality, a couple of which struck me as important enough that they should really have been included in the main findings of the report. Although at 253 pages this is by far the shortest volume, the points raised are interesting and I go into them in great length below, with some pretty full quotations from both the report and the evidence given to the inquiry.

Fully a quarter of the report is taken up with examining the procedures by which the Royal Military Police took statements from the soldiers involved with the events of Bloody Sunday and drew maps of the shots fired. I was not hugely surprised to learn that the usefulness of these statements had been challenged at the inquiry; I was, however, surprised to see that this was generally by the lawyers representing the soldiers. But it seems that the issue is the occasional inconsistencies between the soldiers’ statements given immediately after Bloody Sunday to the RMP, and their later statements to the Widgery Tribunal, to Saville, and in some cases elsewhere. There were one or two cases, which I noted earlier, where the soldiers themselves explained such differences by accusing the RMP of putting words in their mouths. Saville’s reaction then was that it was more likely that the soldiers changed their story than that the RMP had made it up for them, and in general I think I agree now, though I was dubious before. There is no generally visible pattern of the RMP over-egging the pudding, and the soldiers concerned generally turn out to be unreliable witnesses of their own actions for other reasons. There is clear evidence of the RMP clearing up terminology, which occasionally did result in useful details being lost, but my previous suspicions are allayed.

However, a much more serious issue is clear: the RMP do not seem to have been adequately empowered or equipped for criminal investigations against soldiers who had used unlawful force against civilians. Their statements were mandatory, ie made as a military duty; if a soldier admitted committing a crime, in theory, they were to be handed over to civilian investigators, but I don’t know (and Saville doesn’t tell) of any case where this actually happened. In the context of an incident like Bloody Sunday, the role of the RMP was to gather sufficient facts for the army leadership to get its story straight, and not, apparently, to investigate wrong-doing by soldiers. To quote the submission from the lawyers representing the victims: A statement was taken from a soldier as witnesses, not a suspect, without caution. This was done because, firstly, the soldier was not expected to make any admission of criminal responsibility and, secondly, the investigator would not be trying to obtain any incriminating admissions. Major INQ3 [the Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal on the day] accepted both these propositions. Major INQ3 also accepted that this was all explained to the soldier. Major INQ3 was questioned about the consequence of this procedure as follows:

‘Q. So a soldier knew that really so long as he did not make any incriminating admissions, his account would not be tested and he would be in the clear as far as prosecution was concerned?

A. Possibly. That was up to him.

Q. There was certainly nothing to discourage a soldier from fabricating an account was there?

A. No.

Q. In fact, you can see how this procedure would have positively encouraged soldiers to fabricate accounts where the soldier had something to hide?

A. It is possible.’ Even if a soldier volunteered an admission of criminal conduct, there were checks and safeguards against the soldier maintaining such an admission. First, if this happened the interview would be stopped. Secondly, the matter would be referred to an officer ‘for confirmation’. Thirdly, the matter would be referred to the Army Legal Services. Fourthly, a caution would be administered. The knowledge that the police would not get involved in an investigation meant that both the SIB investigator and the soldier being questioned knew that matters could be kept in-house within the Army and no criminal charges brought as long as no soldier insisted on claiming criminal responsibility.

Saville is (almost) silent about whether or not this can be considered a satisfactory state of affairs; while admitting that there is something in it, he also stresses the value of the RMP statements as early records of what was said to have happened. However, he goes on:

173.139: In the first place, there was evidence that at the time there was in the Army in Northern Ireland what could be described as a culture of closing ranks, in the sense of soldiers not only refraining from saying anything that might incriminate their colleagues or put their regiment or the Army as a whole in a bad light; but also going out of their way to be less than candid when questioned about matters that might have had such effects.

173.140: In a memorandum dated 13th April 1972 from the Vice Adjutant General to the Adjutant General, which was principally concerned with misbehaviour on the part of soldiers unconnected with Bloody Sunday, the Vice Adjutant General recorded:

“3. More generally General Tuzo expressed his disquiet at what would appear to be a growing habit of commanding officers to cover up on allegations made against their soldiers. He says it is extremely difficult for him to obtain the true facts when such charges are levelled by police and/or civilians because commanding officers appear to feel it incumbent upon them to stand up for their subordinates in all circumstances and at all costs. In a situation such as Northern Ireland this kind of attitude can be selfdefeating, particularly since the GOC has clearly got as great an interest in the morale and well-being of his units as have their commanding officers. He wondered whether it would be possible for commanding officers of units under orders to proceed to Northern Ireland to be more fully briefed than at present appears to be the case on the need for them to investigate in a totally unprejudiced fashion all charges levelled against their soldiers; instead of, as at present, taking the attitude, ‘My soldiers right or wrong.’ I told him I would discuss this matter with you on your return and that it might well be that you would consider writing to Commanders-in-Chief drawing their attention to this particular problem.”

173.141: Major INQ 3 agreed that General Tuzo’s complaint corresponded with his own experience. The protocol drafted by Warrant Officer Class I Wood specifically warned SIB officers that they would find that a soldier’s superior officers might be over-eager to support their men’s actions and try to incorporate statements such as “In my opinion Private … acted correctly when he fired on the man” in their evidence. When asked to
confirm that “soldiers tended to close ranks when they were being questioned about the possibility of either themselves or other soldiers committing criminal acts”, Major INQ 3 said: “Of course, that is part of unit loyalty.” He also said “that goes without saying” and when it was suggested that this unit loyalty extended through all levels of the Army his reply was “I presume so”.  Colonel INQ 1383, the APM, also agreed that one could rely on soldiers to “close ranks”.

More on this below; but it is worth noting that the officers giving evidence to Saville simply agreed with the proposition that the Army would protect its own.

There are then chapters looking at how the trajectory photographs of the soldiers’ shots were compiled; what might have happened to various photographs known to have been taken on the day but since missing (the soldiers’ lawyers arguing that their absence was evidence of a vast pro-IRA conspiracy, Saville disagreeing); the provenance of one particular photograph of people in Glenfada Park North; the question of psyops, linked with the colourful figure of Colin Wallace but of marginal relevance to events on the day; and the dramatic story told by Private 027, whose media interviews were a major part of the process leading to the setting up of the Saville Inquiry, but who does not really seem to have come through witt the goods:

179.18: In his oral closing submissions, counsel for the majority of the families described Private 027 as “a wretched witness”. To a substantial extent we agree that this comment was justified. At the same time, we take the view that Private 027’s evidence cannot be wholly dismissed on the basis that it is such exaggeration, fantasy and deceit as to be of no assistance. Our conclusion is that it would be wrong to ground any of our findings about Bloody Sunday on his evidence alone, but equally wrong to ignore it where there is other material that tends to support what he told us.

Which is rather a good encapsulation of Saville’s cautious but comprehensive approach to the entire enquiry. (Incidentally the costs of providing security, including a change of identity, for Private 027 must have been a substantial element of the huge overall cost of the Inquiry.)

There are then sixty pages or so of entirely factual reporting of the system of army and police radio communications in operation in Northern Ireland generally and on Bloody Sunday in particular, detailed but not particularly interesting. One civilian listening in to the army went off on the march, leaving his twelve-year-old daughter to change the tapes over ever 45 minutes. The lawyers for the victims tried to argue that the Paras were not using a secure system, so the fact that there was no record of the order to go into the Bogside being made meant that it was never given, but the evidence is pretty clear that they did have a secure system and everyone behaved as if the order had been duly given, so it’s difficult to see what they were trying to prove.

The last 45 pages of the volume tackle an earlier theme from a different angle: what exactly were the legal powers of the soldiers in Northern Ireland? A few weeks after Bloody Sunday, John Hume and others won a court case quashing their arrest by the army, on the grounds that the arrests were made under a law of the Northern Ireland Parliament, which however had no power to instruct the British army. (I have heard, but have been unable to verify, that Paddy Ashdown was one of the soldiers who arrested Hume on the occasion in question.) Saville examines the agreement on mutual jurisdiction betweem the RMP and the RUC, and comes back to the question of a culture of institutional impunity:

194.15 … here we should draw attention to the submissions made by representatives of the majority of the families to the effect that the agreement between the GOC and the Chief Constable “removed soldiers from the normal operation of the criminal justice system and involved the establishment of an alternative structure operated and controlled by the military”, which in turn meant that “the soldier was operating in an environment designed to assist him in protecting himself from the threat of criminal sanction”, and that this contributed significantly “to a culture within which soldiers could shoot, and kill, with impunity”, because they knew that their use of lethal force would not be subject to scrutiny.

194.16: Any attempt to establish whether there was in the period leading up to Bloody Sunday a culture among soldiers which led them to believe that they could shoot with impunity would have required a detailed investigation into the previous incidents of shooting by soldiers, apart from those on Bloody Sunday itself, and consideration of whether these incidents demonstrated that soldiers were using lethal force with impunity, without paying any or any proper regard to whether they were justified in firing. Such an investigation would have necessarily taken a great deal of time and in our view was, in the context of what was already a very large inquiry, a wholly impracticable course to take. In these circumstances, we are not in a position to express a view either as to whether or not such a culture existed among soldiers before Bloody Sunday or, if it did, as to whether it had any influence on those who fired unjustifiably on that day.

As I mentioned way back at the start, Saville’s omission of any counter-argument to this theory, particularly considering the amount of space devoted to knocking down other conspiracy theories, is itself an eloquent silence.

There is one more sting to come. Saville looks at the actual powers of arrest as legally allocated to, and as actually used, by soldiers on Bloody Sunday. He identifies a serious lacuna in that, on the one hand, soldiers were legally no more capable of making arrests than any citizen, but in practice actually behaved as auxiliary policemen. Except rather less so. The whole Bloody Sunday Report concludes as follows:

196.19: Instructions sent by signal from the headquarters of the British Army in Northern Ireland to all Brigades on 13th October 1971, and reiterated on 17th December 1971, had set out the procedure for making arrests under Regulation 11, including an appropriate form of words to be used.






196.20: However, it is highly doubtful whether these instructions were followed on Bloody Sunday or that those arrested on Bloody Sunday were told either under what power they were being arrested or on what grounds the arrest was being made. In the course of the oral evidence to this Inquiry of Warrant Officer Class II Lewis (the Company Sergeant Major of Support Company, 1 PARA), there was this exchange:

“Q. The next heading in your statement is ‘Moving to the north side of Rossville Flats Block 1,’ and you describe how that came about. Could we move on, please, to B2111.018 and paragraph 116, where you say: ‘While in the lee of Block 1 I was not in a position to see the direct actions of soldiers as they were making arrests, although I knew that arrests were still being made. I saw nothing untoward. In Northern Ireland …’ should that say ‘there were proper arrest procedures and we had to conform to these’?

A. No, sir, ‘These were proper arrest procedures and we had to conform to these’.

Q. ‘These were proper arrest procedures …

A. Yes.

Q. What were the proper procedures that had to be followed when making an arrest in Northern Ireland?

A. To grasp the arrestee, sir, and take him as quickly as possible to the holding area with – using minimum force.

Q. That was all that the procedure involved?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Were the soldiers expected to tell the person concerned that he was being arrested?

A. Not to my knowledge, sir, not to my recollection.

Q. Or to explain why he was being –

A. No, sir.

Q. – arrested or anything like that?

A. No, sir.

Q. Or under what legal power he was being arrested?

A. No, sir.”

196.21: In the light of this evidence it appears doubtful, either as a matter of common law or on the basis of the retrospective validation of the regulations relating to soldiers under the Special Powers Act, that the arrests made on Bloody Sunday were lawfully made. We consider elsewhere in this report the question whether arrests were made in good faith.

So in other words, the entire arrest operation, in the name of which the victims of Bloody Sunday were killed and wounded, was carried out completely illegally by the army. It’s a bit surprising that this did not make it into the main conclusions of the report as publicised in June.

I probably will trudge through the legal annexes of Volume X after this, just for completeness, and so that if people ask me if I have read the whole report I can give a better answer than that I managed nine of the ten volumes.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

July Books 15) The Bloody Sunday Report, Volume VI

At 625 numbered pages, this is another very long volume of the Bloody Sunday report – not really because of the number of casualties (eight, compared to seven from each of the previous two volumes) let alone the number of soldiers involved (only four, compared to six in Volume V and eight in Volumes III and IV) but because the evidence of the perpetrators and survivors is unusually confusing. Of the four soldiers (Corporal E, Lance Corporal F, Private G and Private H), two are now dead, and all four appear to have attempted to coordinate their stories rather more than was the case for other parts of the chaos of Bloody Sunday. The civilian witnesses, on the other hand were almost all very busy running away, and therefore had no real incentive to look behind them to watch which soldier was shooting which of their fellow citizens.

Saville faithfully recapitulates all the evidence available, again ruthlessly dissecting the lies told by the soldiers, who moved into Glenfada Park North contrary to instructions (their commanding officer, Lieutenant 112, claimed that they were under his orders, but Savile does not believe him either) and basically started taking pot-shots at the crowd. Corporal E fired southwards and injured Patrick O’Donnell who was trying to take cover behind a fence; Lance Corporal F, Private G and Private H fired south-west, and between them killed Jim Wray and William McKinney, and also injured Joe Mahon, Joe Friel and Michael Quinn. Jim Wray was then shot again as he lay dying. Private G then fired into the neighbouring Abbey Park at Gerard McKinney and killed him, the bullet passing through him and then also killing Gerald Donaghey. Most of the casualties were shot from behind as they fled.

There is a mass of awful detail here. No less than 72 pages address the question of whether or not Jim Wray was shot for a second time after he had fallen to the ground, already having been shot once, with some particularly contested pieces of forensic evidence (I think I would have preferred not to know what ‘shoring’ means in this context) and a wealth of confused and confusing memories of civilians. Another 17 pages look at an incident where an 18-year-old nurse, Eibhlin Rafferty, believed that she was shot at by the soldiers as she attempted to go to the casualties to treat them. Saville respectfully disagrees with her, for various reasons emerging from the balance of the evidence of other witnesses (thus disagreeing with the journalist Nell McCafferty, who was also present). Saville is too polite to say it, perhaps, but to me the biggest strike against her story is that she is still alive; if the soldiers really had targeted her they would certainly have killed her.

For once the evidence about paramilitary activity here at the time that the soldiers were firing is pretty unambiguous: there wasn’t any. The soldiers’ lawyers attempted to argue that Glenfada Park North was known as a hotbed of paramilitary activity, but failed to prove that the four soldiers would have known that, or that it makes any difference if they did. The Official IRA men from Volumes II and IV, by their own account, and presumably also the unidentified gunman from Volume V, since there was no other route he could have taken, had made their getaway through Glenfada Park North and Abbey Park a few minutes or possibly even seconds before the soldiers arrived, but the soldiers did not see them, being too busy shooting at non-existent nail-bombers and petrol-bombers and mysteriously hitting civilians. One choice bit of Saville deconstruction:

[100.5] Corporal E’s evidence would require us to accept that a man, in full view of four armed soldiers, one of whom was only some 30 yards away, threw a petrol bomb towards them which exploded and then, apparently without seeking cover, lit and threw a nail bomb. It strikes us as being beyond belief that anyone would be so foolish as to act in this way.

The lawyers representing the soldiers, here as elsewhere, tried to argue that there were other unreported casualties who were the real and legitimate targets and who have been protected over the subsequent decades by a mass conspiracy of silence; or alternatively that the soldiers, firing at legitimate targets, happened to miss them and hit nearby civilians instead. The biggest problem with the former story is that it is obviously nonsense. The biggest problem with the latter story is that the soldiers themselves, here as elsewhere, have consistently claimed not only that they fired at legitimate targets but that they hit them as well. Gerald Donaghey turned out to have been a member of the Fianna, the youth branch of the IRA, and nail bombs were found on his body later on, but since Private G could not have known that at the time and in any case was aiming at Gerard McKinney when he fired the shot that killed both McKinney and Donaghey, it hardly matters.

About two dozen people were then arrested and carted off by the soldiers. They included at least one genuine member of the Provisional IRA and two priests, arrested as they tried to reach the casualties.

113.73 There is no doubt that, as Fr O’Keeffe stated in this letter to General Tuzo, he and Fr Bradley were refused permission from soldiers to go to those who were lying shot in Glenfada Park North and that that refusal was given in unnecessarily abusive terms. Leaving aside the way it was given, it is perhaps understandable that Fr O’Keeffe should not have been allowed to go to the bodies, as he was in plain clothes, but in our view the refusal to allow Fr Bradley (in clerical clothes) to do so cannot be defended. There were a number of soldiers around, so if it was thought, for example, that he might be intent on escaping (or even removing weapons from the bodies), it would have been easy to guard against such possibilities.

Patrick O’Donnell, unable to move quickly enough for the soldiers arresting him because they had already shot him in the shoulder, was bashed over the head with a baton causing a wound that needed seven or eight stitches.

Despite the confusion of the evidence, the picture of what happened in Glenfada Park North and Abbey Park is depressingly clear. This was not a case of soldiers over-reacting to having stones and other objects thrown at them; this was four Paras taking it upon themselves to pursue fleeing civilians and shoot them dead as they ran away.

Only three more volumes to go. (Volume X, as mentioned before, is a set of legal appendices to the main narrative.)

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

July Books 12) The Bloody Sunday Report, Volume V

At 654 numbered pages, this is the longest volume of the ten so far (and also, incidentally, marks more than a halfway point in the whole report, as Volume X is largely taken up with legal appendices). Whereas Volumes III and IV covered the events in the carpark of the Rossville Flats, where one person was killed and six wounded, Volme V takes a rather shorter time to deal with the events of Rossville Street to the west and north, in which six people were killed and one wounded. It’s easier to do in that all of the killing shots took pace in a very narrow window of space and time, as the Paras coming down the road took cover in the ramp beside the Kells Walk flats and started taking potshots at the crowd gathered at the rubble barricade two thirds of the way down Rossville Street, which ran directly between the junction known to the army as ‘Aggro Corner’ and the junction known to history as Free Derry Corner.

I think this would actually be a good sample volume for anyone who is interested in the deliberative process which led to the writing of the report as a whole but is not, perhaps, interested enough to work through all ten volumes. As usual, we start with a detailed description of the geography of Rossville Street, and an analysis of the movements of the soldiers as they moved down it. Once again we have a mysterious gunman – though whereas the two previous such cases were identified clearly as Official IRA men, this one remains unidentified. However, as in the two previous cases, he is marginal to the story, having been seen by a small number of civilians and by only two soldiers, neither of whom was involved in the later shooting at civilians. Private 017 fired a rubber bullet at him and he ran away.

Three more incidents are described before we get onto the main business: one man injured by a plastic bullet, a woman injured by shattering glass when a plastic bullet was fired through her window, and a man chased into a derelict building who gave himself up when the soldier chasing him fired into the ceiling. The first of these incidents, according to Saville, was a shot which “cannot reasonably be criticised”, a relatively rare endorsement of the use of force on Bloody Sunday. The other two were clearly excessive. In any case all are marginal to the main action (though Saville assesses the testimony of the soldiers involved here as part of the general picture).

The main action is the firing by soldiers from two different platoons at civilians gathered at the rubble barricade towards the southern end of Rossville Street. Saville goes through the accounts of the soldiers of their own and thir comrades’ firing, patiently pointing out the significant internal discrepancies between the various accounts given between 1972 and his own inquiry. One gave an ill-advised interview to the Daily Telegraph in 1999, which Saville ruthlessly deconstructs. (It is interesting that the Daily Telegraph actually gave rather balanced coverage to Bloody Sunday at the time, though not since.) All are clearly lying or at best deluded. Colonel Wilford turns up again in the middle of the action, telling the soldiers to go for it when they were ready (at least according to Private L, though Saville thinks he is an unreliable witness who lied abut shooting an unarmed civilian).

As before, Saville uses forensic and civilian evidence to establish [89.70, slightly edited] that Lance Corporal F shot and killed Michael Kelly; Corporal P shot and killed at least one of William Nash, John Young and Michael McDaid, though Lance Corporal J may have been responsible for one of these casualties and Saville cannot eliminate the possibility that Corporal E was responsible for another. Saville is also sure that Private U shot and killed Hugh Gilmour; and that Private L or Private M shot and killed Kevin McElhinney. One of the soldiers then [89.71] shot Alexander Nash in the arm as he attempted to tend the body of his son William.

89.72 The soldiers were not justified in shooting any of the casualties in Sector 3. In our view Corporal E, Corporal P, Lance Corporal F, Lance Corporal J and Private U fired either in the belief that no-one in the areas towards which they were firing was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there was posing such a threat; and Private L and Private M probably fired in the belief that they might have identified gunmen, but without being certain that this was the case.

One name that came up particularly in this chapter is that of forensic scientist John Martin, who provided evidence to the Widgery Inquiry to the effect that Michael Kelly, Michael McDade and William Nash had probably been handling firearms shortly before they were shot, evidence that provided some of the key arguments for the Widgery whitewash. Martin’s analysis was destroyed by the Saville Inquiry’s own experts, and he himself resiled from it almost completely when giving evidence to Saville. This is one of the few even slightly satisfying elements of the entire affair.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

July Books 7) The Bloody Sunday Report, Volume IV

As will be evident, I’m finding this a grimly compelling read. This volume finishes off the story of Volume III, looking at the civilian casualties and, carefully dissecting truth from lies, establishes precisely which soldier fired each shot, usually to a convincing degree of proof.

Before I start on volume IV, though, one point I forgot from Volume III. Sifting through the one of the arrest reports, Saville found that Private 006 had arrested a Mr Dillon for riotous behaviour (and also that this was more or less a fair cop), but that the records showed him as having been arrested by Private 037 for kicking Private 006, an incident that might well have happened but that Private 037 could not possibly have witnessed. Saville then throws in one more piece of information:

[33.45] A possible reason for Private 037 being recorded as having arrested William John Dillon for kicking Private 006, rather than Private 006 being recorded as having made the arrest on the grounds that the youth was rioting or believed to be a threat to soldiers, is that, as Private 006 told us, he was dyslexic and could not deal with paperwork, “so I preferred to avoid arresting people ”.

Which raises all kinds of questions in my mind, but few of them are related to Bloody Sunday.

The first chapter of Volume IV, Chapter 55, is the longest at 117 of the 381 numbered pages. It details the biographies, injuries and stories of the seven people injured, one fatally, in the Rossville Flats area. The first to be hit appears to have been Jackie Duddy, shot through the chest and carried dying off the scene by a small group of helpers led by Father (later Bishop) Edward Daly – one of the iconic photographs of this incident is my userpic for these posts. The shooting of Jackie Duddy radicalised the situation, and Michael Bridge was photographed running towards the soldiers yelling something along the lines of “Why don’t you shoot me too, you bastards.” They did. Apart from him and Duddy, four other men and a woman were also injured neaby in time and space, three of the other men probably by ricochets or by small objects propelled by shots, the others all by direct fire.

Oddly enough, not a single one of the soldiers seems to remember seeing either Jackie Duddy, lying in plain view of the world’s press as he died, or Michael Bridge, running at them though unarmed and yelling, because they were too busy shooting at the various gunmen in their accounts of whom history has left no other trace. (Sergeant O, Saville admits, quite possibly did exchange shots with a real gunman, but failed to hit him or – luckily – anyone else.)

Ironically, the one paramilitary who Saville agrees was present and firing – he was seen by Edward Daly and others, firing a revolver in the general direction of the Paras after Duddy and Bridge had been shot in full view of the crowd, and is thus known to Bloody Sundayologists as ‘Bishop Daly’s gunman’ – was definitely not seen by the British soldiers, or at least none reported seeing him among their various more spectral targets. This was a second case – after the ‘drainpipe shot’ back in Volume II – of the Official IRA taking inaccurate pot-shots more or less on a whim, and being persuaded to disarm and desist by bystanders; in this case the bystanders who intervened were civilians rather than Provos. As with the ‘drainpipe shot’, the OIRA man responsible testified to Saville, but was dramatically taken ill shortly after mounting the witness stand and did not complete his account. One gets the sense that quite apart from the well-chronicled evolution of their internal political thinking, one of the reasons that the Officials may have given up their armed campaign may have been that they simply weren’t very good at it.

Having considered all of this, Saville sums up by allocating, as far as possible, responsibility for the casualties in this part of the overall set of events of the day (64.96); Lieutenant N probably shot Michael Bridge, Lance Corporal V shot Margaret Deery, Private R shot Jackie Duddy, Private Q shot Michael Bradley, Private T’s shooting caused Patrick Brolly’s injury, and Sergeant O, Private R and Private S between them fired the shots that indirectly injured Patrick McDaid and Pius McCarron. This summary is preceded by the following analysis:

64.2 In the first place, we are satisfied that the known casualties in Sector 2 were the only casualties of Army gunfire in that sector. It follows that the soldiers did not shoot any gunmen or bombers in Sector 2.

64.3 In the second place, we are satisfied that none of the casualties was doing anything that could have justified any of them being shot…

64.10 It follows from the conclusions stated above that these soldiers must, between them, have been responsible for shooting Jackie Duddy, Margaret Deery, Michael Bridge and Michael Bradley and for the shots that caused injury to Patrick Brolly, Patrick McDaid and Pius McCarron…

64.11 In short, the soldiers insisted that they had shot gunmen and bombers, which in our view they had not; and denied, or did not admit, that they had shot the known casualties in Sector 2, which in our view they had. As we have already observed, to our minds it inevitably follows that this materially undermines the credibility of the accounts given by the soldiers who fired. The evidence of one or more of them must be significantly inaccurate and incomplete.

The unbiased reader will by now be thinking of pithier synonyms for “significantly inaccurate and incomplete”.

This takes us to page 284 of the 386 numbered pages. The final two chapters leap forward in time somewhat jarringly, and deal with the arrival in this area of C Company of 1 Para, and the arrest of the people who had taken  refuge in the last house in Chamberlain Street by 8 Platoon of C Company. Saville finds that the arrests were not justified and that those arrested were abused physically and verbally, particularly by an individual identified by several witnesses as a small Scottish soldier.

66.41 The arrest photographs show that Private INQ 12, at 5 feet 6 inches, was the shortest of the three arresting soldiers. In his oral evidence to this Inquiry, Private INQ 12 confirmed that this was his height and that he was of stocky build and a Scotsman.

But it’s a slightly odd coda to the catalogue of murder of the last few hundred pages. Unfortunately, there is more to come.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

July Books 4) The Bloody Sunday Report, volume III

This is the first of what I imagine will be six or seven intensely detailed volumes, detailing every available account of events remembered by the participants in Bloody Sunday. It covers

[22.1] what happened in the area of the Rossville Flats car park and in the adjoining waste ground to the north. There is no doubt that in this sector Jackie Duddy was killed by gunfire, while Margaret Deery, Michael Bridge and Michael Bradley were wounded by the same means. Patrick McDaid, Patrick Brolly and Pius McCarron were injured, though whether by gunfire or otherwise was a matter of controversy.

I had wondered how Saville and his colleagues would pursue their analysis of events; would they, for instance, attempt to tie down an exect sequence on movements and shots, minute by minute, second by second? In fact they have not done this; in this volume at least, they have instead opted for following individual soldiers in turn across the car park, detailing their stories of what happened, then grouping by theme (was there incoming fire? were acid bombs being thrown at them?) and drawing conclusions. By the end of this volume we have a good understranding of the soldiers’ point of view – which Saville then demolishes in a couple of well-framed paragraphs; I guess we will now move on to the evidence from the victims.

The 18 soldiers of Mortar Platoon drove into the Rossville Flats area in two APCs (known to the soldiers as ‘pigs’ and inaccrately called ‘Saracens’ by the civilians). Two in each vehicle were armed with baton guns firing rubber bullets; the other 14 were armed with rifles. They were under the command of Lieutenant N and Sergeant O. The two baton gunners in Lieutenat N’s APC both started a pattern of firing without cause. One fired a round that hit an Order of Malta volunteer; the other grabbed a local man, hit him with his rifle butt and then fired a rubber bullet into his leg.

Lieutenant N himself then fired over the heads of a crowd which he feared was trying to rescue a man he had just arrested. Saville is very critical of this action by the commanding officer of the platoon, the first shots fired after soldiers entered the Bogside on Bloody Sunday:

[30.120] the most likely reason Lieutenant N fired was that he decided that this would be an effective way of frightening and moving on the people, regardless of whether or not they posed such a risk to him or the other soldiers that firing his rifle was the only option open to him. In our view such a use of his weapon cannot be justified. In his oral evidence to this Inquiry, General Ford said: “It is always undesirable to fire over the heads. It occasionally has to be done as a last resort to prevent being overrun or something similar.” We consider that Lieutenant N was not faced with such a last resort situation.

30.127 We are of the view that Lieutenant N’s shots had the effect of causing other soldiers who had come into the Bogside to believe either that there was high velocity gunfire from paramilitaries, or that a soldier or soldiers had fired in justifiable response to paramilitary activity. In either case this would have led them to believe that they had encountered paramilitary activity.

30.128 As we have noted, Lieutenant N told the Widgery Inquiry that he had not considered what effect the shots he had fired into Chamberlain Street might have on other paratroopers. If, as we consider was likely to be the case, he decided to fire otherwise than as a last resort to protect himself or other soldiers, he can in our view fairly be criticised for failing to realise the effect his firing would be likely to have on the other soldiers who had come into the Bogside; and for that reason too have refrained from using his rifle as he did.

We then move on to a grim litany of brutality in arrest, mostly captured for the record by press photographers who were present. Chapter 44 of the report reads, in its entirety,

44.1 On the basis of the evidence we have considered, there were instances where soldiers used excessive force when arresting people in the Eden Place waste ground, as well as seriously assaulting them for no good reason while in their custody. We consider such conduct to be unjustifiable. It suggests to us, rather than that a few individuals overstepped the mark in isolated cases, that such behaviour was closer to the norm than the exception among soldiers of 1 PARA. To our minds this view is reinforced not only by what we regard as the unjustified use of baton guns, but also by other instances of the treatment by 1 PARA soldiers of civilians, which we consider elsewhere in this report.

We then move into an exceptionally detailed consideration of what was actually happening in the Rossville Flats arae at the time that the soldiers began shooting. (Chapter 51, at 140 pages the longest of the 33 chapters in this 498-page volume, takes us point by point through the shots that each soldier claimed to have fired, though looked at from the point of view of the shooter rather than the target.) The evidence of the soldiers is then summed up in one of the most masterfully written passages so far:

54.1 If the accounts of the soldiers of Mortar Platoon are taken at face value, their vehicles were fired on as they entered the Bogside; the soldiers from Lieutenant N’s APC were fired on as they disembarked or soon afterwards; firing was directed towards soldiers soon after they disembarked from Sergeant O’s APC in Rossville Street and as they were conducting arrests; and soon after Sergeant O had arrested William John Doherty near to his APC in the car park, the soldiers came under substantial fire from a variety of firearms for some three to four minutes, as well as being subjected to an exploding nail bomb and a number of acid bombs. There were in addition unsuccessful attempts to throw two nail bombs and a petrol bomb.

54.2 On the basis of these accounts, as noted above, Lieutenant N, Private Q and Private R shot three nail or blast bombers, Lance Corporal V shot one petrol bomber, Sergeant O shot one man with a pistol and Sergeant O and Private S shot two or three men with rifles or carbines. There was in addition an unsuccessful attempt by Private T to shoot an acid bomber, a probably unsuccessful attempt by Sergeant O to shoot another man with a carbine, and a probably unsuccessful attempt by Private R to shoot another man with a pistol. As we have already noted, in all the soldiers of Mortar Platoon fired 32 shots in Sector 2.

54.3 While two soldiers (Private R and Private T) sustained minor injuries from acid or a similar corrosive substance contained in bottles thrown down from a balcony of Block 1 of the Rossville Flats, none of the soldiers of Mortar Platoon in Sector 2 sustained any injury from nail or blast bombs, or firearms, despite the fact that most of them were in close proximity to those they said were deploying these weapons and despite the substantial amount of incoming fire which some said they encountered. On the other hand, according to their accounts, the soldiers of Mortar Platoon were able to shoot seven or eight people in the area of the Rossville Flats car park, all of whom were armed with lethal weapons.

54.4 We have already concluded, for the reasons we have given, that we have found no acceptable evidence that there was incoming fire before these soldiers opened fire or that a nail bomb exploded as described by Private Q.

54.7 It has not been suggested, nor is there any evidence to suggest, that any of the known casualties was armed with a lethal weapon or doing anything that could have justified any of them being shot. We consider below (and for the reasons there given reject) the submission made on behalf of the majority of the represented soldiers that Margaret Deery and Michael Bradley might have been shot by paramilitary gunmen, but no such submission was made in respect of the others, who no-one disputed were hit by Army gunfire.

54.8 On the basis of the evidence of the firing soldiers, therefore, the shooting of Jackie Duddy, Margaret Deery, Michael Bridge and Michael Bradley remains wholly unexplained. To our minds it inevitably follows that this materially undermines the credibility of the accounts given by the soldiers who fired. The evidence of one or more of them must be significantly inaccurate and incomplete.

To me, it becomes absolutely clear that soldiers expected to be able to shoot at their own whim and get away with it without serious investigation or penalty; the Yellow Card, which specified the circumstances under which soldiers might fire, was simply ignored (or at best misunderstood). This was the case for the soldiers, for Lieutenant N in charge of the platoon, and probably went all the way to the top. Sergeant O has an account of a peculiar conversation with Colonel Wilford of all people, who popped up when Private T was firing into the balcony of the flats at a suspected acid-thrower:

51.294 Sergeant O also told us that after he had fired at his third gunman, Colonel Wilford appeared and asked him what had happened. Sergeant O gave him a quick description and told him about his order to Private T to fire at the acid bomber. Colonel Wilford reminded Sergeant O about following the Yellow Card, and Sergeant O “confirmed to him what I had done ”. Sergeant O told us that Colonel Wilford seemed satisfied with what he had been told and left.

51.295 In his oral evidence to this Inquiry, Sergeant O said that Colonel Wilford had come up and asked for a quick snapshot of what had happened. Sergeant O told him that the soldiers had come under fire and returned fire, and as far as he knew they had some hits. Sergeant O told Colonel Wilford that acid bombs had been thrown at the soldiers from Block 2,2 and that he had told one of the men to fire back. He did not tell Colonel Wilford which soldier this was. Colonel Wilford told Sergeant O not to forget the Yellow Card. Sergeant O told Colonel Wilford that he had ordered the soldier to fire, and “I was quite happy with that and he seemed quite happy with it ”.

So, having muttered about the Yellow Card, Wilford just let the soldiers get on with shooting.

The other detail that caught my eye was a couple of allegations that the Royal Military Police had manipulated the statements of soldiers. Coporal 162 (in paragraph 46.2) said that the assertion that he saw people throwing stones and bottles was not true, and had been based on information given to him by the RMP. (Though Saville, at 46.6, doesn’t believe him.) Private S alleges (47.9) that the RMP told him to say that nail bombs had been thrown, and (49.16) that they had inserted a story about him seeing a gunman in his statement, but again Saville doesn’t believe him; and the Inquiry took him through his RMP statementes (51.65-70) and failed to really get a coherent story from him about what he was saying the RMP had done. Both 162 and S appear to be unreliable witnesses generally, but it is interesting that both, when challenged on their inaccurate stories, blamed the RMP for making up things that didn’t happen and which, crucially, would have supported the soldiers’ case had they been true. I hope Saville will at some point have a balanced assessment of the role of the RMP in the initial coverup. The maps they compiled of the shots fired are also not very helpful.

Finally, delving into the evidence, not all witnesses were helpful (see from end of page 159).

Q. When you say “possibly,” can we take that as a yes? 
A. If you wish. 
Q. No, can we rightly take it as a yes? 
A. As I said, it was a long time ago. 
Q. Could you answer my question? 
A. I just did. 
Q. No: did you join the anti-internment march in Derry on 30th January 1972? 
A. Possibly, yes. 
Q. Were you late in joining the march? 
A. Maybe, I cannot remember, it is a long time ago. 
Q. Are you being deliberately obstructive? 
A. No, I am just saying to you.

Shortly after this exchange, Lord Saville told the witness that he could to go away, and he did.

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July Books 3) The Bloody Sunday Report, Volume II

This second volume is mercifully shorter than the first, a mere 348 numbered pages. It takes us right up to the point where Support Company have been deployed into the Bogside, contrary to the orders given to Colonel Wilford; and incidentally exposes his and his superior officers’ “inaccurate and misleading information” on precisely what those orders were.

Chapters 10 and 11 are fairly brief geographical introductions, with lots of maps which did not survive transfer to my Blackberry so I read them online.

Chapter 12 starts off in much the same way, with detailed descriptions and maps showing where various bits of the army were stationed on 30 January. It then diverts into a somewhat prolonged discussion of the question of at what stage in the afternoon Colonel Wilford decided not to send soldiers in across a wall beside a Presbyterian church, but instead through one of the army’s barriers; the Inquiry goes to some lengths to establish that this was a last-minute decision, despite Wilford’s own testimony to the contrary. It becomes clear in Chapter 20 that this is to establish the clear fact that Wilford had not sought approval to deploy in that way, and could not have sought approval largely because he had not thought of it as early in the afternoon as he later claimed to have done.

Chapters 13 and 14 deal with the organisation and early stages of the march from the organisers’ point of view. There were about 250 stewards for about 10-15,000 people; I don’t know, and the tribunal doesn’t express a view, as to whether that is too few, enough, or too many. The stewards were organised by a member of the Official IRA; the flatbed truck at the head of the march was being driven by a Provo. It hardly matters anyway. The organisers (who were not themselves in either branch of the IRA) decided at a fairly late stage to march to Free Derry Corner rather than continue the original plan to end at Guildhall Square when it became clear that the security forces were serious about blocking the route.

This decision was not communicated to everyone on the march, and Chapter 15 deals with the riot that ensued at Barrier 14, where the route change took effect. This is of course also a crucial location for the fatal shootings that took place within the following hour, but Saville is pretty clear that the riot was basically over before the shooting started, and that it was handled appropriately by the security forces, despite evidence to the contrary from a surprising source:

15.35 It was suggested to us by Rifleman 160, a member of A Company 2 RGJ who was present at Barrier 14, that he and other members of his company fired baton rounds in a wild and indiscriminate fashion during the disturbances considered above. We are not persuaded that this was the case, as it is not supported by the photographic, film and eyewitness evidence considered above, or indeed by Rifleman 160’s 1972 evidence.

Chapter 16 deals with other riots in the neighbourhood, criticising the soldiers at Barriers 12 and 13 for using CS gas when it was no worse a situation than at Barrier 14, and in the other direction considering that the rioting at Barrier 15 was not as bad and at Barrier 16 hardly even riotous.

Chapter 17 looks at the occupation of the derelict Abbey Taxis building by the Paras’ Machine Gun Platoon, and the rioting that ensued when they were spotted. Once again we have the weird situation of Saville finding soldiers to have exaggerated the extent to which they was trigger-happy with the firing of rubber bullets. This is actually rather a good bit of analysis, so I quote four paragraphs in full (trimming footnotes):

17.21 According to Lance Corporal INQ 588’s written evidence to this Inquiry, he fired 20–30 baton rounds while he was in Abbey Taxis. According to Private 112’s evidence to this Inquiry, he fired 8–10 baton rounds from his position on a roof next to the Presbyterian church.

17.22 In our view, it is highly unlikely that Lance Corporal INQ 588 fired as many baton rounds as he now recalls. Even if he fired as quickly as he could, this number would have taken some time to discharge, it is doubtful that he would have been able to carry so many, and other members of Machine Gun Platoon make no reference to such a level of firing. We are also not persuaded, in view of Major Loden’s Diary of Operations, and the civilian evidence discussed below, that Private 112’s recollection of firing as many as 8–10 rounds is correct.

17.23 A number of civilians gave estimates as to how many baton rounds they recalled being fired in this area at this time. In assessing this evidence, it must be borne in mind, as noted above, that the march was in some disarray and the situation very fluid, with marchers and rioters moving between locations, some affected by the CS gas being discharged at Barrier 12 and possibly Barrier 13. In addition, differing levels of violence were directed at three different locations (namely the GPO roof, the side of the Presbyterian church and Abbey Taxis) at different times, while baton rounds were also being fired at about the same time from Barriers 12, 14 and possibly 13.

17.24 In such circumstances, it is not surprising that estimates vary, with some given long after the event. However, the overall impression that we gained from this evidence, was that only a few baton rounds were fired in the area under discussion. For example, in his NICRA statement, Padraig O’Mianain recorded that he was aware of three rubber bullets being fired. Patricia McGowan told this Inquiry that she was aware of “just a couple” being fired. Michael McGuinness told the Sunday Times that “a few” were fired, at least one from Abbey Taxis. James Wilson told NICRA that he heard one being fired, but in his evidence to us recalled that four or five had been fired. Patrick McCourt told this Inquiry that the soldiers in Abbey Taxis fired “one or two” rubber bullets at rioters. To our minds this evidence tends to support the number given by Major Loden in his 1972 evidence.

I suspect it won’t play much further part in the inquiry’s findings, which now turn to far more grievous questions, but it is interesting that Saville concludes that three out of three soldiers who fired rubber bullets drastically exaggerated how many they had fired.

This all matters because of what happened in the few seconds described in Chapter 18, the first actual firing and injuries on the day. At 66 pages, this is the second longest chapter in the 348 numbered pages of Volume 2. Perhaps we see now a bit more clearly why Saville established his analytical techniques from the outset; he ends up disagreeing with Damien Donaghey (the surviving victim) and also with Corporal A and Private B, who certainly fired the shots that injured Donaghey and John Johnston, who died of unrelated causes several months later having made a full recovery from his gunshot wounds, but whose evidence, given almost four decades ago, is found to be more reliable than any of the three living principals in the incident. Basically Saville’s finding is that the soldiers fired on Donaghey, then aged 15, at around 1355 because they thought, incorrectly, that he was about to throw a nail-bomb (though he had certainly been throwing stones); four or five shots were fired, of which only one or two hit anyone.

Chapter 19 looks at the other shootings that may or may not have taken place in the William Street area at about the same time. It’s pretty clear that an Official IRA sniper had a go at the soldiers cutting wire on top of a wall beside the nearby Presbyterian church, hitting a drainpipe (though striking how far off the mark the sniper’s own account is). This appears to have been the only shot fired by either branch of the IRA that day, and the Provisionals disarmed the Official sniper as soon as they realised what he had done. There are confused indications that one or two other shots may have been fired, but it is not clear that anyone much noticed at the time. The significance of the drainpipe shot is that the Paras now perceived themselves as under armed attack, which certainly framed their perception of the next events.

Chapter 20 backtracks a bit by looking at the precise orders passing between Brigadier McLellan and Colonel Steele, at headquarters in Ebrington, and Colonel Wiford on the ground. This is one of the most grimly fascinating chapters (and at 92 pages is the longest in this volume). Basically, the testimony given by the three officers to both Widgery and Saville cannot be reconciled with the actual written record of orders given on the day – both those recorded at second hand in the logbooks at either end of the radio link, or the transcriptions made by a local man who was listening in and recording the army’s radio communications (his tapes, unfortunately, were destroyed long ago). The army officers attempted to argue that Wilford’s decision to deploy Support Company in the first place, and his decision to send them down Rossville Street after the rioters, was totally in line with the orders he was given, when in fact the evidence is completely clear that he was explicitly ordered to send in only one company rather than three and not to go much farther than William Street. One further bit of evidence which damns Wilford, though not the other two, is that because he did not pass on to his men the prohibition on chasing rioters down Rossville Street, that is precisely what they thought, according to what they told Saville, that they had been ordered to do.

Saville doesn’t waste a lot of time in condemning the tissue of lies woven by the three senior officers to attempt to conceal what actually happened; he concludes sharply:

20.278 In our view… Colonel Wilford was at fault. He failed to obey the Brigadier’s order by deploying Support Company as he did; he failed to pass on to his soldiers the injunction against conducting a running battle (ie chasing the crowd) down Rossville Street; and he failed to give his soldiers instructions that their task was to seek to arrest rioters rather than to disperse the crowd. What we consider he should have done was to inform Brigade that his original request had been overtaken by events and (assuming that his intention was still to arrest rioters rather than to chase the crowd away) that in his view the only opportunity to make any significant number of arrests was now to send his soldiers down Rossville Street in vehicles. Had he done so, it seems to us that Brigadier MacLellan might well have called off the arrest operation altogether, on the grounds that this deployment would not have provided sufficient separation between rioters and civil rights marchers.

20.279 The failure of Colonel Wilford to comply with the orders from Brigade meant that soldiers of Support Company did chase people down Rossville Street and into the Bogside.

20.280 In the following parts of this report we discuss in detail what then happened…

In other words, the worst is yet to come.

Chapter 21, ending Volume II, is a two-page reminder of the geographical approach taken by Saville and his colleagues to the report.

I commented in my write-up of Volume I that I felt McLellan was given too easy a time by Saville, that he should have been clearer with Wilford about the orders. My opinion of McLellan’s actions has been changed both for better and for worse. For better, in that he was not to know that he was being given incomplete and inaccurate information by Wilford on the day, which as Saville speculates might well have led him to call off the operation had he had the complete picture. But for the worse, in that his story afterwards was clearly constructed to protect the army and obscure the truth.

Wilford’s responsibility is clear. He failed to communicate adequately either with his superiors or with his own troops, in the hopes of staging a spectaularly successful arrest operation in the Bogside to show the softies who normally patrolled Derry how it should be done, and as a direct result 14 people died.

I have been informed, by someone who has actually seen them, that Saville commissioned a number of animated three-dimensional reconstructions of events on Bloody Sunday, which are circulating among privileged circles on DVD. I hope that these too will be published for the sake of transparency.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions

June Books 19) The Bloody Sunday Report, Volume I

The admirable decision to post the whole of the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry online (first volume in PDF available here) may not actually spur a lot of people to read it, but it has gripped me, and over lunch breaks and commutes in the last week or so I have been poring over the details of the first volume. (In case you are interested, I’ve been saving the HTML files from the Inquiry website and converting them to Mobipocket format for the Blackberry.)

To start with a comment on form rather than substance: one admirable skill displayed throughout the report by Lord Saville and his colleagues is the ability to boil down a great deal of conflicting evidence very succinctly. This is particularly so for the kernel of the report, Chapter 3, which chronicles the events of 30 January 1972Chapter 4, which allocates responsibility for the deaths and injuries directly to the soldiers who fired, also sharply criticising the decisions made by Lt-Col Derek Wilford who was in command; and the summary of the summary, Chapter 5, which concludes:

5.5 The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.

It is worth dwelling on this point a bit.

Some of the critics of the Inquiry have asked why Bloody Sunday is more important than any number of atrocities perpetrated by paramilitary groups over the course of the Troubles. I would make three points in reply, one sympathetic, the other two less so.

  1. Any death is an incalculable loss to the bereaved. It is impossible to compare or to give relative rankings to the personal impacts of any loss of life, and distasteful to even try. Everyone has an absolute right to know what happened to their loved ones, and to demand that justice be done to the perpetrators.
  2. But Bloody Sunday had a wider political impact than any other single violent incident in the course of the Troubles. All such incidents ought to be chronicled and examined, but understanding Bloody Sunday is of particular importance. History is usually shaped by political decisions made by individuals whose memoirs and contemporary records can be examined by later historians. This, however, was a confused and confusing event involving dozens of people, none of whom had a complete picture. The forensic sifting of evidence by Saville was necessary to establish that picture.
  3. Even more important, however, is that the State colluded with its own agents’ efforts to prevent the truth from emerging, and smeared the victims as legitimate targets who could justifiably be shot without warning. This was a lie, and most people in Derry knew it was a lie. The formal Inquiry led by Lord Widgery perpetuated that lie as a legal finding. The fact that the state colluded in the lies told by its own agents about the deaths of 14 citizens matters hugely.

So, for those reasons, I start reading the report with a prejudice in favour of believing that it was a worthwhile effort.

The opening summary: details that caught my eye

Saville’s overall narrative problem is this: the soldiers who fired the fatal shots maintained throughout that they were returning fire because they were under attack. The earlier tribunal could not bring itself to find that they were all lying. But, in Saville’s view, they were. Saville and colleagues examine a number of alternative explanations, and find them all wanting, for instance:

3.6.6: we have considered the possibility that one or more of the casualties might have occurred from soldiers firing by accident, in the sense of discharging their rifles by mistake and without intending to do so. We have found no evidence that suggests to us that this was or might have been the case.

But this doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, which is the question of why soldiers, and particularly the Paras, thought that they could get away with such a mass conspiracy to deceive the world about what they had done. We must remember that initially they did get away with it, and were praised for their efforts by the British establishment. Saville raises an important avenue of interpretation, as follows (I truncate some of the text):

4.7 it was submitted that those who fired did so because of a “culture” that had grown up among soldiers at the time in Northern Ireland, to the effect that they could fire with impunity, secure in the knowledge … that their actions would … be investigated … by the Royal Military Police (the Army’s own police force), who would be sympathetic to the soldiers and who would not conduct a proper investigation… we are not in a position to express a view either as to whether or not such a culture existed among soldiers before Bloody Sunday or, if it did, whether it had any influence on those who fired unjustifiably on that day.

Given the firmness with which he knocks down other conspiracy theories elsewhere in the report, Saville’s countenancing of this theory in the first place, and the fact that he says nothing at all to contradict it, together rather suggest that he believes this nterpretation, though felt he could not make it a formal finding of the report.

The formal finding of the report is that the deployment of the Paras in Derry on 30 January to arrest rioters was dubious in principle and wrong in practice.

4.8 [Commander of Land Forces, General Ford’s] decision to use 1 PARA as the arrest force is open to criticism, on the ground that 1 PARA was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence…

4.24 Colonel Wilford [the commanding officer of 1 Para] should not have sent soldiers of Support Company into the Bogside for the following reasons:

  • because in doing so he disobeyed the orders given by Brigadier MacLellan [Commander of 8th Infantry Brigade, which was the Army brigade in charge of the Londonderry area];
  • because his soldiers, whose job was to arrest rioters, would have no or virtually no means of identifying those who had been rioting from those who had simply been taking part in the civil rights march; and
  • because he should not have sent his soldiers into an unfamiliar area which he and they regarded as a dangerous area, where the soldiers might come under attack from republican paramilitaries, in circumstances where the soldiers’ response would run a significant risk that people other than those engaging the soldiers with lethal force would be killed or injured by Army gunfire.

General Ford’s decision to deploy the Paras in the first place, and the way in which Colonel Wilford sent them in, are the top-level political decisions identified by Saville as having led to the deaths on Bloody Sunday. But the key events remain the decisions of individual soldiers to shoot at unarmed civilians who posed no direct threat.

The Background

The opening summary occupies less than a seventh of the pages of Volume I of the Inquiry’s report, but I felt I had to go on and read more; there is something grimly compelling about this awful event.

This does require adjustment by the reader to a real change of pace in the telling of the story. Chapters 8 of the report is longer than the first six combined: Chapter 9 is three times as long, accounting for 275 of the 488 numbered pages of Volume I of the report. Knowing that the total time taken up by the killing on Bloody Sunday was about ten minutes, and having already seen Saville’s forensic style, I imagine that we will get second-by-second dissections of events in future volumes. This first volume, however, leaves us teetering with suspense on the morning of the 30th.

It starts much earlier. Chapter 7 is a moderately detailed account of the history of Northern Ireland since 1920 (readers can follow in the footnotes some gentlemanly bickering between two academic historians called Paul, both of whom I have known for a long time). This essentially takes us to and through the decision to deploy the army in Northern Ireland in support of law and order, ie in support of the Unionist single-party government in Stormont, by 1972 led by Brian Faulkner.

Chapter 8 begins with a very detailed explanation of the security architecture in Northern Ireland, and how the accountability of the army to the London-based Ministry of Defence was integrated with its role in support of the autonomous Stormont regime and its police force. We then move fairly seamlessly to the history of the last five months of 1971, starting with Faulkner’s disastrous decision to introduce internment without trial of suspected terrorists, which lifted entirely the wrong people, mistreated them (slightly short of torture, according to the European Court of Human Rights) and thus further increased tensions with no corresponding security gain.

Here, unusually, we run into some ambiguity of analysis from Lord Saville and his colleagues. By late 1971, there appear to have been two contradictory currents of opinion on security policy in general and in Derry in particular. Describing a committee meeting in October 1971, Saville concludes:

8.92 The perceived need to keep Brian Faulkner in power as the last chance to avoid direct rule seems to us to have caused a shift in priorities towards a greater effort to defeat the terrorists, evident from the record of this meeting.

Yet at the same time local security force commanders in Derry – particularly the police, but to a certain extent the local army commanders also – appear to have decided that their aggressive stance had failed, and that they needed to wind down a bit. That takes us to the end of the year.

Chapter 9: January 1972

This book-length chapter is mainly about the security situation and decision-makng processes in the first 29 days of 1972. But actually the sections that jumped out at me were the brief discussions of moves towards a political settlement. Reginald Maudling (of all people!) appears to have taken on board the need to engineer Catholic representation in the Stormont government; indeed he recognised that:

[9.185] a solution would have to comprise three elements, these being reassurance about the border, a change in the composition of government and a redefinition of the powers of government.

Add to that the necessity for an all-Ireland dimension, however cosmetic, and you basically have British policy from that day to this. In the meantime, the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, was thnking along similar lines, and thinking out loud about them to Edward Heath and other British officials, and no doubt to many others. I would observe that little thought was being given as to how to bring Faulkner on board with any such policy, and none at all as to how to engage Northern Ireland Catholics; the key diplomatic problem for London was dissuading Lynch from presenting his ideas in such a way as to kill off Maudling’s similar undrafted proposal (as would have certainly happened had he gone ahead and launched his own initiative from Dublin).

That is not, however, the meat of Chapter 9, which starts with a grim portrayal of the security situation in Derry: a recurrent picture of riots, gunfights between army and paramilitaries, bombing and arson. It is not clear if this was getting worse in late January, but it is clear that it was bad. The Bogside and Creggan were essentially free of government control. In these circumstances, General Ford wrote his notorious memo proposing the shooting of selected ringleaders of the Derry Young Hooligans, which was seized on by the representatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday as evidence of an assassination policy going right to the top of the military hierarchy. Saville shows from the documentary evidence that Ford’s memo was bureaucratically buried; it never went further up the tree than his immediate superior, and rather more crucially did not make it down the tree as far as Colonel Wilford. In addition, Ford’s proposal, bone-headedly homicidal though it was, was to shoot ring-leaders after due warning with .22 inch ammunition; the shootings of Bloody Sunday were not of ring-leaders, were carried out without warning, and were done with 7.62 mm rounds. Saville reasonably concludes that Bloody Sunday was not an implementation of Ford’s memo. (The political negotiations described above are part of this analysis; however wishful the thinking in London about a political settlement, nobody could have believed that shooting civilians would bring it closer.)

Because it explores in so much depth the military and police perceptions of the situation, the Inquiry somewhat neglects the reality of the situation on the ground. Not always; Saville reports that though the army thought they had shot and probably killed 15 IRA men in Derry in January 72, there is no evidence to support even a small fraction of this number [9.239]. But more strategically, the Inquiry misses an important point about the inflitration of the Civil Rights Association by the Official IRA. Nobody denies that this was happening, but what the security forces missed at the time, and what Saville fails to explain, is that this was not the subversion of a peaceful campaigning group by paramilitaries, but in fact part of the process of conversion of a paramilitary group to peaceful means. The security forces as a whole appear to have made little effort to differentiate between the organisation and agendas of the Officials, the Provos, and the Derry Young Hooligans (this last group existing as an organisation only in imaginative internal army memos). This surely counts as an intelligence failure, and I fault Saville for not picking up on it.

I do not fault Saville for querying Ford’s decision to use the Paras on 30 January, as the key force in arresting the leaders of the supposed ‘Derry Young Hooligans’ after the planned (illegal) march. The previous weekend, a diifferent company of 1 Para had brutally attacked an anti-internment march at Magilligan Strand, a few miles from Derry, as reported in depth by the well-known pinko rag, the Daily Telegraph. Of course only one soldier was investigated for attacking unarmed civilians, and he was rapidly cleared by the RMP’s internal inquiry process. More than one senior officer from other regiments queried in advance the decision to deploy the Paras as the arrest force on 30 January. Saville is understanding but critical of Ford’s decision to use them; I would be less understanding.

Immediately below Ford, Brigadier McLellan was much more sensitised to local conditions, and very aware of important issues like ensuring that peacful marchers and rioters were well separated before any arrest operation was implemented. It is absolutely clear from Saville that McLellan failed to communicate this concern adequately to Colonel Wilford, in charge of the Paras. Saville is equally clear that this was entirely Wilford’s fault; that it was his duty to seek clear orders from McLellan and his failure that he did not do so. I am not so sure; in environments where I have been managing gifted and idiosyncratic individuals, I certainly felt it my responsibility to give clear guidelines as to what behaviour and actions were and were not acceptable, and at least partially my failure if those guidelines were not followed because they had not been clearly issued. Perhaps the military environment is different.

Having said that, most of Saville’s criticism of Wilford appears very well founded – helped by the evidence which Wilford himself gave over the years to Widgery, to the media and finally to the Saville Inquiry itself, which is a mess of contradictions, evasions and inaccuracies. From the analysis in the summary of the report, I had expected to find Wilford a homicidal maniac, determined to prove the valour of his men; this certainly seems to be Saville’s inclination, dwelling on his remark years later to a journalist that he did not want his soldiers to stand there having things thown at them “like Aunt Sallies”. But in fact the picture I see is of a man out of his depth, given dangerously to woolly thinking, indeed wilfully so. A telling paragraph for me was Saville’s summary of Wilford’s rather perfunctory recce of the ground over which the operation would take place, a few days in advance:

9.553 We find that this was an unsatisfactory reconnaissance. In our view, a more careful examination of the terrain should have taken place… Colonel Wilford should have consulted closely with those stationed in the city on how best an arrest operation should be conducted and should have looked at the route through which he proposed to send troops. We formed the firm impression that Colonel Wilford was intent on showing the local troops how an arrest operation should be conducted and was not keen to take advice from them on how it should be done…

And so the chapter ends, with the Paras tucked up in bed on the verge of launching an unprecedentedly large arrest operation in hostile and unknown territory, amid warnings that the peace of Northern Ireland for years might depend on the outcome of the operation. (And yes, there was a palpable sense of apocalypse among both military and civilians on the day.)

I have left out a lot here – the army’s distrust of the local police commander because he was a Catholic, the internal discussions among the civil rights leaders, the overall question of marching. I don’t pretend to be writing a balanced overall summary of the report; rather I am just noting the points that jumped out at me. If you are at all interested in the topic I urge you to do the same.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions