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29 August 2002 Edition

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Officer said all Catholics should be shot

BY FERN LANE


The Bloody Sunday Inquiry has been asked to investigate claims that a British Army officer said in 1979 that all Catholics in the North of Ireland should be shot.

The remark was revealed by the BBC governor, Richard Eyre, in a letter to The London Review Of Books (LRB) on 22 August. He was responding to an article by Murray Sayle, the former Sunday Times journalist, who wrote in the July edition of LRB about his experience in giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday tribunal earlier this year. Sayle's article includes a transcript of a damning article written by him and Derek Humphry within days of Bloody Sunday but never published by the Sunday Times. Also reproduced is a copy of a Sayle memo regarding the article sent to the Sunday Times editor Harold Evans on 19 February 1972.

In his letter to the LRB, Richard Eyre recalls that in 1979 he met with a senior army public relations officer in connection with a television play he was hoping to make. The meeting, says Eyre, "provides anecdotal support for Murray Sayle's argument in his piece about Bloody Sunday that the Paras were carrying out a plan to 'bring the enemy to battle'.'What,' I asked the officer, 'is the Army's policy in Northern Ireland?' 'Well, if I had my way,' he said, 'we'd line all the Catholics up against a wall and shoot the fucking lot of them'."

In his original article, Murray Sayle had written that the Parachute Regiment's plan "seems to have been illegal under the circumstances. There is no way, therefore, in which at least some of the blame can be kept from the people or person who authorised it. Was he honestly told that it carried a high risk of 'civilian' (i.e. Bogside sympathisers with the IRA) casualties? If not, the people who submitted the plan are guilty of, at least, manslaughter; if so, the people who authorised it are. 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 authorised these operations, criminal charges may be appropriate."

In his follow-up memo to Harold Evans, Sayle also relates a meeting, on 14 February 1972, with a senior British Army officer stationed in Derry. The officer concerned, who has been granted anonymity by the tribunal, is identified as Captain 028, PRO of the 41st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. According to Sayle, the officer told him that "The Army had to win in Ulster - otherwise violence would submerge Europe. A lot of them were Communists, he told me. All Catholics were liars 'and the gentlemen of the cloth - well, you know about them, old boy'."

Sayle also reports that the same officer told him: "'I often think that one of our marksmen could knock off Bernadette, John Hume and the rest of them - that would end the whole thing in a matter of days. Worth thinking about, eh?' Then, getting deeper and deeper into the whiskey: 'You know, old boy, there's only one thing we really want here. We just can't let people at home think we shot unarmed men in the back. We just can't have people thinking that, can we?'."

Sayle concludes his account of the meeting by saying that "I am sure this man is lying, no doubt out of some mistaken view that the Army need to protect their good name. I relate the incident partly to let our people know what we might expect to hear at Widgery, also with a note of caution: I don't want to be over-dramatic, but I think that any army caught in this sort of embarrassing bind, and with officers' reputations and careers at stake, is capable of playing it very dirty indeed."

Solicitors Madden and Finucane, who represent several of the Bloody Sunday families, have asked the inquiry to investigate Mr Eyre's comments. They have also written to the solicitor for the inquiry, John Tate, requesting him to name the officer.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry is due to resume in London on 2 September.

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