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14 May 1998 Edition

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Bloody Sunday was planned - new evidence

By Laura Friel

Bloody Sunday was the result of a planned attack by the British army in Derry which British soldiers knew in advance would result in civilian casualties, according to new evidence. A number of witnesses have recently come forward for the first time to make statements to lawyers who are compiling evidence.

The witnesses have said they were warned by British soldiers with whom they were friendly to stay away from the march because their lives would be in danger.

In a sworn affidavit, one female witness said she was told by a high ranking officer in the British army to keep her family away from the march because ``this is going to be one bloody Sunday''. Her testimony corroborates a statement by a British paratrooper, known only as Soldier A, who admitted during a Channel Four documentary last year that he and his colleagues were told the night before the march that they were ``going to Londonderry to get some kills''.

A solicitor working on the case for the forthcoming inquiry has said the material indicates a ``frightening picture of pre-planned murder''.

In addition, a document compiled in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday by two investigative journalists, which was never printed and had subsequently gone `missing', has unexpectedly surfaced amongst the archives of the National Council for Civil Liberties. Derek Humphry and Murray Sayle were dispatched to Derry by The Sunday Times immediately after Bloody Sunday.

After gathering ``at least one hundred pieces of evidence'' which included eyewitness accounts, interviews with survivors, tape recordings and indirect contact with the IRA, Sayle and Humphry filed their 10 page copy. The article never appeared in print. Harold Evans, the editor, handed the unpublished document to the Widgery Inquiry after which it effectively vanished for 26 years. Last month extracts appeared in the Derry magazine `Fingerpost' reproduced by Dessie Baker.

The article contends that the then British PM Edward Heath and Brian Faulkner had accepted British Military Intelligence claims that the IRA were beaten in Belfast and a decisive blow in Derry would finish them off. ``The idea,'' wrote Sayle and Humphry, ``worked out, we believe, by Lieut-Colonel Derek Wilford on lines of thinking propounded by Brigadier Frank Kitson, British army counter-insurgency, was based on the military principle that the way to bring your enemy to battle is to attack something that, for prestige reasons he will have to defend...he will then be annihilated by superior strength. The Civil Rights march, the Parachute Regiment planners believed, was just such an objective which the IRA would have to defend or lose its popular support in the Bogside - either way the IRA would be finished.''

From eyewitness accounts, Sayle and Humphry describe the operation as it was played out on the ground. ``The saracens took up rehearsed blocking positions along Rossville Street and next to Rossville flats. Paratroopers wearing combat, and not anti-riot, gear jumped out and dropped into standard British army firing positions in spots clearly selected in advance for the purpose of the operation.'' This style of operation would be in keeping with their role as frontline assault troops. As Murray Sayle points out, ``this was a pre-planned operation. Parachutists specialise in them. They seldom have what are called `encounter battles' - when two groups just run into each other. Paras have a plan which they initiate the moment they hit the ground jumping either from aircraft or in this case pigs/Saracens.''

Sayle and Humphry conclude that Bloody Sunday was the result of a special operation by the British Paratroop regiment ``which went disastrously wrong''.

If Sayle and Humphry are correct, civilian casualties were an integral part of the military's strategy. The ``disaster'' for the British army was the failure of the killings to draw the IRA into an armed confrontation. Undoubtedly, the British army intended to use the confusion of an ensuing gun battle - in which they hoped to kill IRA Volunteers - to cover up their prior cold blooded murder of civilians. In the event the British army, in failing to engage armed IRA Volunteers, were left with unarmed dead and injured civilians to explain away.

Sayle and Humphry's analysis suggests that victims of Bloody Sunday were not targeted in the ``mistaken'' belief that they were armed IRA Volunteers - this is confirmed by the detail of many of their deaths - but expendable pawns in a British army counter insurgency game plan.

It is significant, says Sayle, that the Widgery inquiry was into only ``what happened in Derry from 2pm on Sunday''. ``The plan was not to be revealed or even discussed,'' concludes Sayle. The soldiers who fired the shots, the British officers who ordered them, the military strategists who drew up the plan, their political masters who sanctioned it, and those who colluded in the ensuing cover up are clearly all culpable.

Meanwhile relatives of Jim Wray, one of thirteen people killed on Bloody Sunday, have informed the chairperson of the new inquiry, British Law Lord Mark Saville, that they have no confidence in the hearing. In a letter, Liam Wray, brother of the dead man, said he did not believe the parameters of the new inquiry met the basic requirements ``to obtain truth and justice''. The family's main objection is on the issue of immunity. The possibility of some people being granted immunity was a ``diminution of justice'' and no guarantee of the truth being revealed, writes Liam. The inquiry is expected to begin in the autumn and last at least a year. While many of the relatives have reservations they have decided to suspend judgement until the full scope of the inquiry is known. In the interests of truth and reconciliation, all those involved in the massacre should come forward and participate fully in the forthcoming inquiry.
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