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28 November 2002 Edition

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General claims he misled Widgery Tribunal

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry



BY FERN LANE


Major General Patrick MacLellan, the commander of 8th Infantry Brigade on Bloody Sunday, admitted to the Saville inquiry on Monday that he had misled the Widgery Tribunal. He said that he had not intended to provide misleading information to the original inquiry, but had only realised under the detailed questioning by counsel to the Saville inquiry that, contrary to what he had told Widgery, his orders had not been obeyed by 1 Para when they mounted a motorised assault down Rossville Street on the afternoon of 30 January 1972.

The orders he had issued on the day were that Colonel Derek Wilford, commanding officer of the Paras, should send in one company on foot to mount a "scoop-up" arrest operation and that on no account were the soldiers to be "sucked in" to a "running battle" down Rossville Street. In the event, Wilfred sent in three companies - a total of about 300 men - and armoured personnel carriers, which went straight into the Bogside, far beyond the point at which they had been ordered to stop. MacLellan told the inquiry that he did not consider the use of three companies to be a breach of his orders, but that there was "obviously a breach of the geographical restriction" he had placed on the men under his command.

Earlier, under questioning from Ms MacDermott for the family of Patrick Doherty, MacLellan denied the suggestion that the reason the Paras entered the Bogside in the manner they did was perhaps because "somebody else, or some other group of people within the Army, had a plan on this day that was different from yours". He said that although he saw the operation as one to arrest many of the rioters who were a "running sore to the security forces", he did not see it as an opportunity to 'have a go' at the hooligans. The inquiry was shown part of an interview MacLellan gave in 1984, when he said: "I know there was some feeling in Belfast that we should give the Catholics a bloody good hiding, but that feeling came from a Protestant dominated city, where you could act harder with much greater public support." MacLellan told the inquiry that "whatever the perceptions were, it did not influence my actions", adding that he believed this "perception" had originated from General Frank Kitson.

MacLellan also denied that he had been effectively "sidelined" on the day by General Ford. It was put to him by counsel for some of the families that "General Ford was determined to have a success on the day. We know that he [was] disturbed by your attitude on 7 January and by Inspector Lagan. He had now set up a "one over one" situation, as it is termed in military parlance. That was making your position somewhat difficult - the order for the day was General Ford's order. He selected 1 Para; he determined there was going to be an arrest operation; he was determined to have a success. Shortly put, was this not General Ford's show, and you were sidelined?"

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard evidence from McLellan's assistant at brigade headquarters, Major General Michael Steele, who in his statement to the tribunal dramatically contradicted his superior officer's evidence, claiming that no orders had been breached. He added that the action that led to the deaths of 14 innocent people and the wounding of 14 more was a "good operational decision". Steele said that the Paras had not in fact become involved in a running battle down Rossville Street, and claimed they had simply reacted appropriately after being engaged in a firefight with the IRA. "I thought then and I think now that it was a good operational decision," he said.

Major General Steele is expected to give evidence for several more days. Edward Heath, the British prime minister in 1972, is scheduled to begin giving his evidence next week.
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