31 October 2002 Edition
"Marginally lethal" general gives evidence
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
BY FERN LANE
Last week, Lord Saville refused to allow the Bloody Sunday inquiry to hear details of the killings of two Protestant men on the Shankill Road in September 1972 by members of the Anti-Tank Platoon on 1 Para. He ruled that the incident was not related to the events of 30 January 1972, despite the fact that the soldiers involved in the killings on the Shankill were also heavily implicated in Bloody Sunday.
The question arose during the evidence of Soldier 027 last week, who described the incident in a written statement. He described how, during a patrol, the platoon, of which he was a member, had come under attack by rioters throwing stones and other missiles. "One or two blokes started to loose off shots," he said. "A corporal who was in charge started shouting out:
'That's enough! No more firing! No more firing!'
"We couldn't identify targets. We were all thoroughly hacked off and decided we had to do something. A few shots were loosed off down in the direction of the Shankill. Later it turned out that a drunk was hit. Ironically enough, he crawled and died on the pub steps." Another man was also killed the same evening.
Having refused this evidence regarding the general mindset of members of the Anti-Tank Platoon, Lord Saville has allowed an anonymous former British army major, known as INQ1872, to make unsubstantiated allegations about Martin McGuinness, claiming that the latter was part of an IRA 'ambush' in which INQ1872 was injured in March 1972.
The soldier also described some of the Bloody Sunday dead as 'hooligans', claiming, incorrectly, that "a lot of them had convictions and were not as 'innocent' as nationalist propaganda tried to make out".
Apparently in an attempt to show the British Army in a more favourable light, Ford told the inquiry of an incident in which he says he was given the legal authority to allow his men to fire on unarmed civilians
Also this week, the inquiry began hearing from General Sir Robert Ford, British Commander of Land Forces in the Six Counties in 1972. Ford told the inquiry that he had no recollection of either writing or dictating his now infamous memo recommending that the British army "shoot selected ringleaders amongst the Derry Young Hooligans after clear warnings have been given", but insisted that it was just an "idea".
He also told the inquiry that his further recommendation that the army be issued with rifles adapted to fire .22 rounds rather than the 7.62 mm ones already in use was because the former were only "marginally lethal".
When asked what he meant by the phrase "marginally lethal", Ford replied: "That is very interesting. I do not think any officer would really know."
Christopher Clark QC, for the inquiry, put it to him that, given that soldiers were always taught to "shoot to kill by firing at a position on the body where the bullet is likely to kill them, the same is highly likely to arise even if they use a .22 bullet"?
Ford responded: "It is likely to arise, but less likely. There again, this was purely a first thought, which needed detailed examination and research."
When asked by Clark whether he knew such a proposal was "probably unlawful", Ford said: "I do not think an idea is unlawful."
Then, apparently in an attempt to show the British Army in a more favourable light, Ford told the inquiry of an incident in which he says he was given the legal authority to allow his men to fire on unarmed civilians and thus 'save' the residents of a Catholic enclave in Belfast. It arose, he claimed, on 3 July 1972 in the Ainsworth Avenue area of Belfast:
"The Ulster Defence Association, some 5,000 to 7,000 strong, unarmed so far as we could see, were declaring their intention of either completely blocking off a small Catholic enclave in that area, using bulldozers, concrete and all the rest of it, and in addition evicting the Catholics from it.
"I had to tell the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the then Mr Whitelaw, that if the UDA advanced, they would overwhelm the soldiers, probably during that time we would lose a lot of rifles, et cetera and there would be unarmed combat, which is something which is absolutely unacceptable; and that they would achieve their aim.
"I persuaded Mr Whitelaw eventually that the only way to stop this was for me to be given authority to confront the leaders of the UDA and to tell them that unless they stopped where they were, after due warning, a number of them or one of them would be shot.
"He gave that authority. I contacted the leaders of the UDA, the Royal Master and so on. But we knew who they were, and after considerable discussion persuaded them that what I told them was the truth."
General Ford was not pressed by Clark on the question of whether, given that permission to fire on unarmed civilians had been issued on that occasion in the belief that it was necessary to stop soldiers being "overwhelmed", as he put it, similar permission could have also been given on Bloody Sunday, particularly in light of the severe pressure that was being placed on the British Army and the Stormont administration by the unionist-controlled Strand Traders Association in Derry. They had already demanded a curfew and the shooting of rioters in the city.
The inquiry was also shown a copy of a report Ford had written after Bloody Sunday in which he said: "I have little doubt that after the speeches were over last Sunday, the hooligans, supported by quite a considerable element of the crowd, would have descended on the Waterloo Place and the Strand with the aim of doing maximum damage. I believe that we would have had the greatest of difficulty in containing the situation without shooting into the crowd."
General Ford is expected to give evidence until the end of this week.