24 October 2002 Edition
Former Para's damning revelations
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
BY FERN LANE
We were all in high spirits and when our Lieutenant said 'let us teach these buggers a lesson - we want some kills tomorrow', to the mentality of the blokes this was tantamount to an order, i.e. an exoneration of all responsibility
Soldier 027, who began his evidence to the Saville inquiry last Wednesday, continued his account of Bloody Sunday this week. In addition to his statement to the tribunal, much of the questioning of the former paratrooper was based on an account of his experiences in the Six Counties that he wrote shortly after leaving the British Army in 1975, an account he sent to an American journalist, Sean Patrick McShane, but which was only recently rediscovered.
During this hearing in London, 027 gave his evidence from behind a screen, often pausing for lengthy periods before answering the questions put to him. When questioned on his various statements, 027 repeatedly replied, in an accent suggesting a public school education, that he could no longer remember specific details, but said that he had no doubt that he had believed at the time that what he said was true.
In his statement to the tribunal, 027 described how he had arrived in Belfast as a 19-year-old shortly after the introduction of internment, joining a regiment in which there was "... an element of enjoying the violence of the situation... Depending on our individual natures, we were all to various degrees brutalised by it".
He said that he had done things he was "ashamed" of in Belfast during his time there and recalled the common practice of "beasting" civilians; that is beating them up. "More men than I can remember took the severest of beatings at our hands," he said.
"Many of the blokes were getting rich from the wallets of people we searched in hundreds daily," he said. "In fact, they [civilians] often, as soon as they were asked to go up a back alley, would produce all the money they had and offer it to us by way of appeasement. Although I am sensible enough to have realised then and now the immorality and baseness of the situations we created, I confess to being filled with the martial spirit of power along with everyone else."
On incident which, he said, went into Parachute Regiment "folklore" was one concerning Corporal 036 who, after "having eaten in a Chinese restaurant in Bangor decided he was going to walk out without paying the bill. As a result a Chinese waiter followed him out of the door, brandishing a chair. 036 shot him with a 9mm Browning, ran to a pub where he knew some friends were drinking, gave them the pistol and continued with his night out."
The friends were soldiers G and F (two of the most seriously implicated members of 1 Para in respect of Bloody Sunday), who returned the weapon to barracks where "the Armourer brushed it through and the consequent investigation in the face of solid denials and no evidence came to nothing. I could recite many stories of a similar nature ..."
He was also party to, although he says he was not directly involved in, a number of particularly notorious incidents in Belfast. One was the blinding of Emma Groves, who was hit in the face by a plastic baton round fired through her kitchen window by a British soldier.
On another occasion, just days after Bloody Sunday, he witnessed the beating and abduction of Francis Creagh and Raymond Muldoon from the Divis flats by a number of paratroopers, including soldiers F and G. The two men were thrown into the back of a Saracen, beaten, and then driven to the Shankill Road, where they were dumped outside a loyalist bar and identified by the soldiers as Catholics. Somehow the men survived, but both subsequently received compensation for the ordeal they had suffered.
The violence, however, was not always confined to civilians or those considered to be the "enemy". 027 claims he was himself severely beaten up by another paratrooper identified as UNK180 - a man "totally lacking in the attributes usually associated with a normal human being" - shortly after arriving in Belfast. According to 027, this soldier, around the time of Bloody Sunday, took part in an armed robbery of a post office in Belfast. He was discharged from the army and became a "notorious" mercenary who he believed to have been killed in Africa. New recruits, it seems, were singled out for particularly harsh treatment at the hands of more seasoned soldiers. "I have seen blokes being held by their thumbs from the top of the toilet door, severely beaten and made to eat their own excrement," he said.
So far as 30 January 1972 was concerned, said 027, "I do not think any one of us would have had a single sensible thing to say about the civil rights movement. To us what was more important was that it was an illegal march. As squaddies, our perception was that probably all the people in republican areas were IRA supporters."
In his statement, 027 recalled an informal briefing his company received the night before Bloody Sunday, during which the possibility of "getting kills" the following day was discussed. "I cannot remember now whether these events were first voiced by the Lieutenant," he said, "but I do remember the comment being repeated by the soldier sitting next to me" - Soldier F.
"As I looked at my friends I could see that after all the abuse and nights without sleep, frustrations and tensions, this is what they had been waiting for. We were all in high spirits and when our Lieutenant said 'let us teach these buggers a lesson - we want some kills tomorrow', to the mentality of the blokes this was tantamount to an order, i.e. an exoneration of all responsibility."
In his account, written in 1975, 027 writes vividly of the moment that 1 Para entered the Bogside. There were, he said, "army vehicles of all descriptions behind which were huddled large groups of 'crap hats'. 'Cannot handle it yet?' is the best way I can describe our feeling on seeing these blokes who could not manage the elementary rudiments of soldiering. We were about to show them. With visions of gross Deutschland - we swept past them and on to Rossville Street."
His section ran towards a small wall in front of Kells Walk. Soldier F arrived, knelt down and "without pause or hesitation, commenced firing towards the centre of the crowd". Soldier G "immediately jumped down beside him and also opened fire - INQ635 also commenced firing.
"One chap from Guinness Force ran up beside me, pushing his way between two other soldiers who were firing, so that he could commence firing himself. He indicated to me that he thought what was happening was great. He was exuberant.
"I looked through my sights, scanning across the crowd. I was as keen to find a target as anyone, but I just could not identify a target that appeared to justify engaging. I did not see anyone with a weapon or see or hear an explosive device - I lowered my weapon and looked at the guys firing and tried to locate what they were firing at. I still failed to see - and it caused me some confusion. I have a clear memory of consciously thinking 'what are they firing at?'."
Soldier F arrived, knelt down and "without pause or hesitation, commenced firing towards the centre of the crowd". Soldier G "immediately jumped down beside him and also opened fire - INQ635 also commenced firing".
Soldiers F and G, said 027, seemed to have had "a preconceived idea of what they were going to do that day and set about doing as a pair of oppos. I think I could see the whole frontage of the crowd and, no, I did not see anything that appeared to justify firing." When questioned further by Counsel, 027 confirmed his belief that the soldiers had opened fire entirely "without justification".
027 then received a order to cease fire over the radio and indicated this to the other soldiers with him. Soldiers F and G, closely followed by Soldiers E and H then ran towards Glenfada Park. 027 followed on and as he entered the area "shooting had already commenced".
"As I came on the scene, there was at least one body down. I saw a crowd of about 40 shocked and terrified people trying to get away," he said. "I saw no civilians with weapons, no threatening gesture, neither could I see or hear any explosive device during the entire situation." He recalled Soldier H firing from the hip into the crowd from a range of about 20 metres. One bullet "passed through one man and into another and they both fell, one dead and one wounded. He then moved forward and fired again, killing the wounded man. E shot another man at the entrance of the car park. A fourth man was killed by either G or F".
"I must point out," he said "that this whole incident occurred in fleeting seconds and I can no longer recall the order of fire or who fell first, but I do remember that when we first appeared, darkened faces, sweat and aggression, brandishing rifles, the crowd stopped immediately in their tracks, turned to face us and raised their hands. This is the way they were standing when they were shot."
Of the killings in Glenfada Park, Soldier 027 said: "I find it very difficult to explain by experience of the very shocking and unspeakable incidents that unfolded in Glenfada Park North. I did not know how to feel. I was mentally overloaded and seized up. It was surreal, as if the events took place outside normal time."
When asked by Counsel to explain further his feeling about the events in Glenfada Park, 027 told the tribunal: "It is not something I can articulate or express in words; it is something I carry with me."
Afterwards, he said, there was an "intense wave of excitement" among the soldiers as they worked out how many rounds each of them had fired and as they discussed how they were going to justify the shootings.
Paratrooper 027 was also party to, although he says he was not directly involved in, a number of particularly notorious incidents in Belfast. One was the blinding of Emma Groves, who was hit in the face by a plastic baton round fired through her kitchen window by a British soldier
His initial statement to the Royal Military Police on 5 February 1972 included "fabrications" he said, to the effect that there had been bombers and gunmen. He told the inquiry that he did so in order to, as Christopher Clark QC put it, "preserve the reputation of the battalion".
However, when he gave a statement to lawyers for the Widgery Tribunal he had begun feel "a certain disquiet" about what had occurred. In his 1975 statement he said that on that occasion "I rattled off everything I had seen and done. The only thing I omitted were names and the manner in which people had been shot. Apart from that I told the truth, which I wanted to convey".
"Then to my utter surprise one of these doddering gentlemen said 'dear me Private 027, you make it sound as though shots were being fired at the crowd, we cannot have that can we?'.
"He left the room and returned ten minutes later with another statement which bore no relation to the facts and I was told with a smile that this was the statement I would use when going for the stand - What a situation. The Lord Chief Justice of Great Britain, the symbol of all moral standing and justice and having his minions suppress and twist evidence, with or without his knowledge, who can tell? I was amazed." In the event however, 027 was not called to give evidence in person to the Widgery Tribunal.
Under cross-examination by Counsel for some of the soldiers, who questioned the validity of his various statements, 027 attempted to explain the emotional conflict that deviating from the official army line had caused him. He was asked how, on the one hand, he could have laughed and joked with the other members of the battalion about Bloody Sunday, whilst simultaneously feeling "disquiet" about the incident.
"Unless you are a robot, I think most people are multi-faceted and you can have a range of emotions happening simultaneously," he said. "I do not claim that I acted rationally or wisely in what I did here. I am merely trying to report this situation so that a reasonable person could understand what the pressures were like. It gives me no pleasure to sit here, involved in this issue as I am. I did then - and I do now - regard the Parachute Regiment as a magnificent regiment, composed of many fine individuals with exceptional qualities, and this is not a joke for me, it is something that has been a conflict within me since it occurred."
Edwin Glasgow QC, representing many of the soldiers, suggested on Monday that 027's motivation for giving evidence to the inquiry was money. "A substantial part of your motivation for giving evidence to this inquiry is money, because you have driven a very, very hard bargain to be here, 027, have you not?" he asked. The inquiry heard that 027 was given £20,000 towards a house, £6,000 for a car, £1,400 a month in lieu of earnings until three months after his evidence to the inquiry had been completed and £100 a month to buy life insurance. He was also placed on the witness protection scheme after fear of reprisals by his former colleagues.
The former soldier said that that he was "trying to achieve certain security measures" to protect his family. "I was an anxious and frightened individual," he said. "For a considerable time I had been living in a situation of stress and anxiety. With no end in sight, I was forced into a position where I had to put my family's situation first."
027's account has been disputed by other members of the Parachute Regiment, most of whom are due to give their evidence to the Saville tribunal early next year.