Bloody Sunday: the wait is over

Brilliant report for Bloody Sunday families: Not a bad result for the British Army either. Eamonn McCann on the Saville Report released 15 June 2010

June 21, 2010
6 min read

Derry is still dizzy from the eruption of joy that greeted the Saville Report’s recognition that all the Bloody Sunday wounded and dead were unarmed civilians – gunned down by British paratroopers for no good or legitimate reason.

But the report is not flawless. When it comes to the allocation of blame to the soldiers, it follows a pattern of convicting the lower orders while exculpating the higher command, and dismissing the possibility of political leaders had been even passively complicit in the events.

The individual paras who fired the shots that killed or wounded civil rights marchers are damned for the roles that they played. Additionally, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, commander of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, is singled out for obloquy.  It was his disobedience of orders, says Saville, which put the paras into position to carry out the killing. Had he followed orders, the massacre would never have happened. Thus, an undisciplined battalion commander and a small squad of kill-crazy foot soldiers did it all.

The effect is to insulate the rest of the British army from blame. The report was brilliant for the Bloody Sunday families, but it wasn’t a bad result for the British army either.

David Cameron might have found it more difficult to disown those involved in the atrocity so forthrightly had Saville included in his list of culprits, say, Major General Robert Ford, Commander of Land Forces, Northern Ireland, at the time, or General Sir Michael Jackson, second-in-command to Wilford on the day, later army Chief of Staff and NATO commander in Kosovo.

Ford, second in seniority in the North only to the general officer commanding, commissioned the Bloody Sunday battle plan, ‘Operation Forecast’, and ordered the paras to Derry to carry it out. In the weeks before Bloody Sunday, he had made plain his frustration at the failure of Derry-based regiments to bring the Bogside no-go area to heel.

In a document published by the Inquiry dated 7 January 1972, Ford declared himself ‘disturbed’ by the attitude of army and police chiefs in Derry, and added: ‘I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders amongst the DYH (Derry Young Hooligans).’

Insulates political and military leaders

Ford took the decision to deploy the paras six days before Bloody Sunday, overruling a message the same day from Derry commander Brigadier Pat MacLellan indicating that he and local police chief Frank Lagan believed that any direct confrontation with the civil rights marchers should be avoided. Ford also held to the plan in face of strongly expressed opposition from senior Derry-based officers. On the day, although with no operational role, he travelled to Derry and took up position at the edge of the Bogside, shouting ‘Go on the paras’, as they ran past him through a barbed-wire barricade towards the Rossville Street killing ground.

Saville suggests that Wilford allowed his soldiers in the Bogside to exceed MacLellan’s orders ‘not to fight a running battle’. But nowhere in the report is it considered whether Wilford and the paras might have believed or suspected that MacLellan’s orders need not be regarded in all the circumstances as binding.

The possibility that Ford’s decisions in advance and comportment on the day played a part in the way matters developed is brusquely dismissed: Ford ‘neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day,’ Saville declares in chapter four of his report’s first volume.

In the same chapter, Saville insulates political and military leaders generally from blame: ‘It was also submitted that in dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland generally, the authorities (the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments and the Army) tolerated if not encouraged the use of unjustified lethal force; and that this was the cause or a contributory cause of what happened on Bloody Sunday. We found no evidence of such toleration or encouragement.’

This is remarkable. Numerous incidents over the previous year might have suggested toleration if not encouragement of unjustified force. The most egregious had happened six months before Bloody Sunday, when the First Paras were involved in killing 11 unarmed civilians over three days in Ballymurphy in west Belfast. Newspapers of the period, particularly Nationalist newspapers, were carrying regular complaints, many of them plausible, of unjustified and sometimes lethal violence by soldiers against civilians. Toleration of this behaviour might have been inferred from, for example, the fact that no inquiry had been held into the Ballymurphy – neither massacre nor any soldier disciplined or statement issued expressing regret.

Saville dismissal of the suggestion of a ‘culture of tolerance’ would be unremarkable, if by ‘evidence’ he meant testimony to the Inquiry. He had at an early stage declined to examine prior events in the North on the reasonable ground that to subject the Ballymurphy incident, for example, to the same level of scrutiny as Bloody Sunday would have made the Tribunal’s task impossible. But this makes the statement that, ‘We found no evidence …’ puzzling: the Tribunal had decided not to gather such evidence.

 

Many who read through the body of the report will be puzzled, too, by Saville’s acceptance of the explanation eventually offered by Jackson of his role in compiling the ‘shot-list’, which formed the basis of the initial cover-up of the killings.

Questions over ‘shot list’

Jackson had provided the Tribunal with a detailed account of his movements and involvement in the Bloody Sunday events and took the witness stand in London in April 2003. Nowhere in his statement or his April evidence did he refer to compiling the shot list or other documents giving a version of what had happened. His role emerged the following month during evidence from Major Ted Loden, who described how, late in the afternoon of Bloody Sunday, he had taken statements from the shooters and plotted map references showing the trajectory of their shots.

However, when a number of documents including the original of the shot list were then produced, the list was not in Loden’s handwriting but in the handwriting of the now Chief of Staff of the British Army. How could this have come about, Loden was asked, ‘Well, I cannot answer that question’, came the reply.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope