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10 June 2004 Edition

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Not one soldier told the truth: The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

BY FERN LANE

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry was told on Monday that not one of the soldiers or their commanding officers had told the truth when they gave evidence about the events of January 1972.

The accusation came from Arthur Harvey QC, lawyer for some of the families, as the tribunal began two weeks of hearings in Derry in advance of the final oral submissions by all parties in October. The current hearings are to enable Lord Saville and his colleagues to question lawyers in detail about their written submissions and to hear evidence from one further witness.

Before answering questions on his submission, Harvey told the inquiry that, decade by decade, the army's account of what had happened had changed.

Initially, the army's case had been that it was not responsible for the killing and wounding of 27 people. It claimed that the IRA was responsible.

Then, as that case became untenable, it was changed to suggest that "those who were shot and injured fully merited what occurred, that they, either directly or indirectly, were involved in acts of terror against members of the Parachute Regiment".

Now, with that argument having been effectively disproved, the army had changed tack once again. Now, explained Harvey, the army was claiming that "not only did they shoot the 27 persons, they probably shot considerably more... but there is a conspiracy within this city to conceal the deaths of individuals who had families, who were known within the community and that the community therefore has conspired to assist this.

"The case is now, not that the defendants were not innocent, but the soldiers are innocent. They are both equally innocent, because it was the activities, not of those who were actually shot and known to be shot, but the acts of others who must have been shot, who are unidentified and have remained unidentified for an excess of 30 years, which are to blame."

This argument, he said, was "threadbare" and had been demonstrated as such "because those who were posed the questions failed the very first hurdle in any inquiry of whatever nature: they simply did not choose to tell the truth.

"It is a choice that each of these soldiers were offered, and a choice that none of them took."

Families want answers

In contrast to the changing nature of the army's account, the position of the families has always been "based upon certainties: the certainty that those who were shot and injured were innocent of any wrongdoing; the certainty that there was no justification for shooting them; the fact that there was never any objective justification for their being shot because of the actions at or close to them; and the certainty that they were not shot by mistake, that they were shot deliberately".

Nevertheless, said Harvey, these certainties did not provide answers. All the families could do was pose questions. "Those questions can only be answered by those who shot them, by those who were responsible for commanding those who shot them, and those who were responsible for designing the plan and implementing it, during the course of which they were shot... those questions, to paraphrase the language of General Jackson, required individual soldiers and their officers to look inside themselves for the courage to tell the truth. Regrettably, that has not occurred."

Lack of accountability

Further, he added, the answers to the questions posed "require that which is absent at almost every level of responsibility: clarity, attributability, accountability. That did not begin with the soldiers who fired the shots. Undoubtedly, it is substantially in their interests for there to be a lack of clarity, a lack of accountability, a lack of attributability. It did not begin with them. It began with the government at Westminster.

"The lack of clarity suits all purposes for this Inquiry except the search for the truth" he said. "Governments come and go. It is easy for a government 20 years later to apologise. It does not relieve the grief or the anguish, nor does it provide explanations as to why things should have happened. Throughout, there has been deliberate manipulation of communication at all levels to ensure a self-serving obfuscation of the clear lines of responsibility."

For all the attempts by the British Government and the army to frustrate the inquiry, and despite the sustained attempts by each layer of command, from the British government right down to the soldiers themselves, to deny their own part in Bloody Sunday, the lines of responsibility can be clearly mapped. Firstly, said Harvey, the British Government was responsible for what occurred under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In addition, the Ministry of Defence had political responsibility for the Army. "The senior officers in the Army should not have been abandoned to absorb the attitudes of the Stormont government in the manner that they had by General Ford" he said.

Officers saw nothing

"General Ford was responsible because he deliberately selected the march in Derry as an opportunity to impose a regimented security solution on a political problem. He was responsible in that he went to Derry as an observer and yet, if the evidence that he gave is to be seen as credible, he was the observer who observed nothing. In fact, as soon as it became clear that soldiers were firing, he absented himself from the field. The explanation is that he was going to get an overview, which he did not quite achieve. His failure, therefore, is simply a failure of bad luck, bad timing, bad location. His failure, in fact, was that the plan that he had devised was horrendously incompetent.

"Responsibility lies with 8th Brigade, because [they] ought, when 1 Para were imposed upon them, to have taken command and control... to have insisted upon a proper arrest plan being introduced; to have insisted upon scrutiny of the arrest plan; and to have insisted on communications which at all times kept them appraised of what was happening on the ground.

"Colonel Wilford is responsible because he, more than any other, had immediate control of the company which actually carried out most of the shooting. He also, it would appear, established himself in a position which gave him a substantial overview of what occurred. Yet he did not see or hear or have reported to him the shooting by Machine-Gun Platoon before he went in. He abandoned the position of command and control.

"Major Loden is directly responsible because, although he had the grandstand view on William Street, all that he surveyed, he saw nothing, controlled nothing, contributed nothing. The other officers on the ground almost universally saw and heard nothing in relation to the shootings that led to the death of the individuals. It is hardly surprising that individual soldiers and non-commissioned officers should take their lead from what they saw from above. That responsibility came down to them from government, from their own Ministry of Defence, through Headquarters Northern Ireland, through 8th Brigade, to the individual soldier who had to stand up and justify his shots. Of course, had he have done so, he would have been immediately exposed.

That fear of exposure, said Harvey, was the reason behind the lack of clarity. But, he added, it had been to no avail. "Ultimately, they have been held to account for their actions in this Tribunal, and the fact that their answers have been wanting is simply a reflection of the fact that the case is fundamentally wanting."

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