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14 March 2002 Edition

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Bloody Sunday immunity document revealed


The Bloody Sunday Inquiry has uncovered a document which reveals that between January 1970 and March 1972 an agreement existed between the RUC Chief Constable and the British Army GOC to severely limit the scope of any inquiries into killings by British state forces, in effect offering all members of the security forces immunity from prosecution.

During the period of the agreement, the British army killed 68 people and the RUC four, but because of this 'gentlemen's agreement' none of these deaths were, or could have been, properly investigated.

The document, which was revealed on the UTV Insight programme into the killing of mother of six Kathleen Thomson in 1971, relates to the notes of lecture given by a former major in the Royal Military Police in 1973. He states: "Back in 1970 a decision was reached between the GOC and the Chief Constable whereby RMP (Royal Military Police) would tend to military witnesses and the RUC to civilian witnesses in the investigation of offences and incidents.

"With both RMP and RUC sympathetic to the soldier, who after all was doing an incredibly difficult job, he was highly unlikely to make a statement incriminating himself. It was equally unlikely that the RUC would profer charges against soldiers except in the most extreme circumstances."

The document has now been submitted to the High Court in Belfast by Madden & Finucane, solicitors for Kathleen Thompson's family, as part of an application for a judicial review into the case.

A spokesperson for the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, which has facilitated the family's campaign to establish the truth surrounding the death of Kathleen Thompson, said that the discovery of this document "raises the most profound questions regarding the rule of law and the right to life".

In other developments, John Barry, the then editor of the Sunday Times Insight team which investigated the killings told the inquiry that senior army officials had told him that they regarded the British army operation on Bloody Sunday as a "cleaning house" and that Colonel Derek Wilford and his officers had considered it a success. Barry told the inquiry that he was told that the army held that it had "achieved the purpose for which they claimed to believe they had been sent in".

Barry also told the inquiry that immediately after Bloody Sunday he began to hear what he called "gossip" about the members of the regiments involved in the killings. "The Paras who had shot were of one particular company, and the story we heard was that the company had been essentially the troublemakers of the battalion," he said. "That was why they were in the company, it was notorious.

"Within the Paras were disciplinary problems - there had been a brawl that evening [30 January 1972] involving members of that company who had fired and the rest of the Paras who had not. It was clear there was a good deal more - the other elements went through the anguish within the Army about what had happened, that virtually nobody had realised what was going on until it was way too late to stop it." Such rumours, whether or not deliberated placed, would of course have been extremely helpful in deflecting attention away from the British political establishment at the time.

Barry was also asked about his book 'Insight on Ulster' which was published in 1972 in which he wrote of his concerns that the British Army was being used as a "blunt instrument of oppression" and that a failure to resolve the conflict politically may lead to a massacre.

He said that it "seemed clear to us at the time that the Army was being used in default of any political movement.

"The second element was that it was clear to us that, that the Army, which was itself becoming frustrated, was increasingly resorting to violence against rioters and stone-throwers as a means of sort of summary retribution and we feared - and we were not unique in reaching this conclusion - that this was going to lead, almost inevitably, to the use of bullets and therefore to bloodshed."

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