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17 October 2002 Edition

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First soldier testifies

Says Paras opened fire "without justification"

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry


At the time of going to press, the first British soldier actually involved in events on the ground has been giving evidence to the Inquiry. The former member of the Parachute Regiment, identified only as 027, told the Inquiry on Wednesday morning that his colleagues opened fire on the civil rights march "without justification". In his written statement, Soldier 027, who is on the witness protection programme because of possible reprisals, said that he did not see any gunmen or bombers in the Bogside on 30 January 1972.

Soldier 027's statement says that when he arrived in Rossville Street, another Paratrooper began firing "without hesitation" straight at a crowd behind a rubble barricade. Other soldiers also began firing but 027 said that when he scanned the crowd through his rifle sights he could not see anyone resembling a gunman or bomber. Six people were killed at the barricade.

After some minutes he relayed a ceasefire order but two Paratroopers went into Glenfada Park, where they killed a further four people. He followed them into the area and saw a crowd fleeing in panic. He told the inquiry that he could not identify any targets for the soldiers and that the crowd posed no threat to them.

In his original statement given to the Royal Military Police a few days after Bloody Sunday, Soldier 027 had said he had seen a gunman in Rossville Street and a petrol bomber in Glenfada Park. The reason he said this, he explained, was that he had come under intense pressure from other members of the regiment and did not want to "stick his neck out". He said that the sections of his statement were "fabricated" in order to place other paratroopers in "a better light".

The soldier, who was not called to give evidence to the Widgery Inquiry has said that when he told a lawyer about his colleague firing at the crowd at the barricade, the lawyer ripped up his statement and returned later with another for him to sign. This statement, submitted to Widgery, contained the claims about the supposed gunman and bomber.

Soldier 027 is expected to give evidence until early next week.

General Amnesia

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry heard on Monday that documents which were supposed to accurately record instructions given via radio to British Paratroopers in Bogside do not match events on the ground.

The inquiry was hearing evidence from Soldier INQ2091, who at the time was a subaltern attached to headquarters Infantry Brigade at Ebrington Barracks. On Bloody Sunday itself he was on duty as a watchkeeper in the operations room making a log of radio communications.

The inquiry was told that an order was given verbally at 4.07pm on a secure radio network, Bid 150, for a unit of 1 Para to go into Bogside. They were ordered to go through Barrier 14 at William Street. However, three more units of 1 Para went into the scene at different sites, some of them in armoured personnel carriers.

Soldier INQ2091 said that a verbal order would have been passed on to a watchkeeper who would ensure that it was accurately written down, for later transcription. However, there is no record in the transcribed log - the original having been destroyed - of the order to send in three more units of the Paras after the initial burst through barrier 14. The official log does also not tally with the recordings taken of British Army communications by a local radio enthusiast.

INQ2091's explanation for this was that, as Ebrington Barracks could not operate a secure radio link, the order may have gone through on a network in the Brigade Major or Commander's offices.

Also giving evidence on Monday was General Tickell, the former British Army Chief of Staff, who told the inquiry that although he recalled "some talk" that intelligence had been received "to the effect that the IRA would hijack the march", he could not recall the name of a single member of HQ staff with whom he had discussed the matter or from where such intelligence had come.

In his statement to the Inquiry, Tickell had said that he could not remember what the march on Bloody Sunday was for. "It was general knowledge that there was to be a large procession taking place from the Creggan/Bogside on 30 January 1972," he said. "I cannot now recall the reason for the procession..."

Despite his senior position, Tickell also denied ever seeing a number of important documents concerning the situation in Derry, including the proposed shooting of rioters, which passed between the various department of the British Army, many of which are annotated to the effect that he was included in the circulation. For example, he said he had no recollection of General Ford's memo dated 14 December 1971, dealing with future British military activity:

"The risk of casualties is high [this is in relation to a number of options, one of which is going into the Bogside or the Creggan] and apart from gunmen or bombers, so-called unarmed rioters, possibly teenagers are certain to be shot in the initial phases; much will be made of the invasion of Derry and the slaughter of the innocent."

Tickell's belief that there was intelligence prior to 30 January to suggest that the IRA would be present on the march was questioned by Lord Gifford QC. He suggested out that, from a note written by General Dalzell-Payne on 24 January, the major problem for the army was the effect on unionist and Protestant public opinion of the sight of thousands of civil rights marchers.

"There was, I suggest, in the early part of the week, no fear that there would be any confrontation with the IRA," he said. "I do not know the answer to that," said General Tickell.

Matters appeared to suddenly change after the matter was discussed by the Joint Security Committee - of which John Taylor was a member - which met on 27 January. Minutes of the JSC record that "the operation might well develop into rioting and even a shooting war".

A paper by General Dalzell-Payne of the military operation branch, also dated 27 January, states:"It is not possible to enforce the ban rigidly with the force levels available and we can only hope to deal with two or three large scale demonstrations at any one time. In order to deal with them effectively, however, we must take stronger military measures which will inevitably lead to further accusations of 'brutality and ill-treatment of non-violent demonstrators'." Tickell told the Inquiry that he could not say what "stronger military measures" meant.

The author of that paper, Major General Henry Dalzell-Payne, appeared before the Inquiry on Tuesday and denied that the Army had considered shooting demonstrators in order to enforce the ban on marches.

Under questioning from Arthur Harvey QC for the families, Dalzell-Payne claimed that firing on the crowd "was the last thing in the world that we were going to do".

He said that senior officers had merely wanted to introduce "firmer measures" to arrest hooligans after they had refused a request for more troops. However, apparently anticipating poor publicity for the army in relation to the 30 January civil rights march, Dalzell-Payne had written: "The only additional measure left for physical control is the use of firearms i.e. `disperse or we fire - Inevitably it would not be the gunmen who would be killed but `innocent members of the crowd`. This would be a harsh and final step, tantamount to saying all else has failed and for this reason must be rejected except in extremis. It cannot, however, be ruled out."

Dalzell-Payne told the Inquiry that opening fire would have been in response to "our soldiers being killed at random".

Harvey asked whether his paper reflected the British Army's inclination to apply "martial law to civilian situations". Dalzell-Payne said that on reflection, he felt it was "not clear enough in some respects and was open to various interpretations, one of which you have adopted".

Despite what he had written in his paper, he said he agreed with Harvey that "it would be wholly unconscionable in a western democratic society to shoot dead people for defying a ban on marches".

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