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6 April 2000 Edition

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Saville Inquiry week one

BY LAURA FRIEL

Direct British Cabinet involvement in the planning of Bloody Sunday came to light this week when the Saville tribunal heard evidence of a telegram sent by the then British Home Secretary Alec Douglas Home to the Stormont administration outlining how to handle Public Relations in the run up to the Derry march. The memo instructed the Stormont regime to issue a statement prior to the march which would ``prepare people for violent scenes on their television screens''.

During a meeting between the then British PM Edward Heath and Stormont leader Brian Faulkner three months before the events of Bloody Sunday, the British PM said he was prepared to face the political backlash of defeating the IRA militarily. Heath said the British public was losing patience and he could no longer risk the impression of being borne along by events. Heath's suggestion of a realistic political settlement was ruled out by Faulkner, who would not serve in a government which included republicans ``whether or not they eschewed the use of violence.''

A tape recording was also heard in which a British officer ordered a soldier to ``shoot him dead'' after a nail bomb was thrown by a Derry youth. The soldier stresses that the youth is unarmed and offers no further threat. ``Shoot him dead,'' the officer commands. The soldier fires but misses his target by ``two inches''. ``Bad shooting,'' replies the officer. The incident took place just two days before Bloody Sunday.

An article which appeared in the Guardian newspaper just days before Bloody Sunday claimed that some British Army units wanted the Parachute regiment withdrawn from the north of Ireland because their aggressive attitude was disruptive. A British Army captain said the Paras were regarded as ``thugs'' in uniform. Another officer said paratroopers ``seem to think they can get away with whatever they like''.

A few weeks earlier, a group of Derry businessmen had urged a British Army commander to take tougher measures. In a memo by Major General Robert Ford to his immediate superior General Harry Tuzo, Ford reported that the traders had ``wanted at a minimum, the Rossville Flats cleared and ideally the Creggan and Bogside occupied. They also wanted curfews and shooting on sight.''

The British major general's view concurred with that of the businessmen. ``I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ring leaders amongst the DYH.'' In a new statement to the Saville Inquiry, Ford denied that his suggestion to shoot did not amount to a recommendation to kill.

After the memo, Ford had 30 SLR rifles, adapted to use more accurate rounds, sent to 8th Infantry Brigade in Derry for training. Ford told Brigadier Pat McLellan to prepare a plan for the march which would take into account ``the likelihood of some sort of battle''.

McLellan supported the view of the local RUC commander Frank Lagan that a more softly softly approach in which the march would be allowed to proceed to the Guildhall, where participants could be photographed and arrested at a later date, should be adopted. Ford ignored their advice and informed Frank Kitson, commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade, that he would require 1 Para.

A British soldier, who was not a member of the Parachute regiment, described being given a specific instruction not to open fire under any circumstances. The soldier described the order as ``extremely unusual''. ``That was the only time I ever knew that to happen,'' he claimed. British soldiers usually operated under the yellow card, which allows a soldier to return fire if they were attacked or acting in self defence.

The British Army warned journalists and photographers the day before Bloody Sunday that they were ``going in hard''. At a press briefing on the evening prior to the civil rights march, journalists were told to stay behind army lines. Another witness who delivered milk to Ebrington barracks was warned by soldiers to ``stay away from the Bogside''. He was told ``something big was going to happen'' and ``people could be killed''.

At least ten British army photographers and a cine camera team in a helicopter were deployed on Bloody Sunday, but the vast majority of the photographs could not be traced and were ``probably destroyed''. Approximately 377 photographs were used during the Widgery Inquiry but of these only eight aerial photographs, taken afterwards, were supplied by the military.

A soldier, in a statement made in 1999, claimed a file of photographs had been kept by the Parachute regiment but the inquiry has been unable to locate them. The tribunal has collected around 5,000 images, of which 1,500 were described as relevant, from other sources.
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