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13 June 2002 Edition

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Sunday Times journalists were gagged

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry


BY FERN LANE


Two Sunday Times journalists have been giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and have told the tribunal that an article they wrote in the days following 30 January 1972 was pulled after the newspaper came under pressure from the government.

One of the journalists, Murray Sayle, told the Inquiry last Monday that he, together with his colleague David Humphreys, has arrived in Derry very shortly after the shootings with a brief to produce an article for publication the following Sunday's edition.

Sayle said that he was concerned with investigating the military side of the events, while Humphreys was to interview as many civilian eyewitnesses and wounded as possible. Sayle said he was particularly interested in the army's PR version of events as, in his experience, army statements issued during or immediately after a military operation were often drafted before the operation was actually lauched, giving an indication of what, in the words of Christopher Clarke QC, "was meant to happen as much as what actually did".

Sayle told the Inquiry that the army's statement that soldiers were restricted from firing on anyone not answering to the description of "a youth of military age wearing a combat jacket" was of particular interest to him, because "in my experience, such restrictions can easily be seen as permission to open fire if a soldier believes he is, or is about to be, risking his life in combat".

In other words, an order to ONLY shoot young men wearing combat jackets can easily become an order to simply shoot young men in combat jackets.

He said: "When we arrived, and were briefed within half an hour of the basic situation, questions arose. For instance: why are all the people who are dead or wounded, with one exception, all males; why the proportion of dead to wounded, thirteen to thirteen at that time, which would be most unusual in a firefight or even in an accidental firing on a crowd. Why would they all [fit the description of] "youths wearing combat jackets".

Sayle told the Inquiry that as a result of his investigations, he believed that the army?s plan had been to mount an "ambush" of IRA members on the

march using members of the Parachute Regiment who had been told that the 'enemy' would fit the description above. When the plan backfired, 'innocent civilians' were killed. Sayle commented that nothing he discovered disproved his hypothesis of a prior plan by the army to mount an ambush. "If this is not the explanation," he said, "what is?"

In an unpublished memo he penned on 19 February 1972 to Harold Evans, Sayle wrote: "We cannot get to the bottom of this without looking into the command structure of the whole Army operation in Northern Ireland, with, let us make no mistake, a strong possibility that when we find out how the command set-up works and who authorises these operations, criminal charges may be appropriate."

His colleague David Humphreys, giving evidence to the Inquiry, said that he had interviewed numerous eyewitnesses and a number of members of the IRA at the time, whom he declined to name, before producing the article jointly with Sayle. He said he was "angry" when he discovered that the article was not going to be published and flew the London to confront Harold Evans.

"He told me that he `was not going to risk prison to print the article'," said Humphreys. "This was a reference to the fact that he had been warned by the Home Secretary to not print anything on the subject as a government inquiry had been ordered to be chaired by the Lord Chief Justice.

"I felt at the time, and still feel now, that the article was an accurate account of what happened and that it should have been published."

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