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13 February 2003 Edition

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Shooter refuses to come clean

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry



BY FERN LANE


Any remaining hopes the Bloody Sunday families may still hold that the soldiers responsible for the killing and wounding of their loved ones would find it in their hearts to be honest about the day were dealt a severe blow on Tuesday when the first of the Parachute Regiment's shooters, identified only as Soldier A, took the stand.

Damian Donaghy sat 20 metres away from the man who seriously wounded him on Bloody Sunday only to hear him tell the inquiry that he was "positive" he had shot at a "nailbomber".

The soldier, who was not named but gave evidence in open court rather than from behind screens, described the so-called bomber on more than one occasion as "a man of about five-foot seven inches in height with a blue windcheater and fair hair". At the very end of his four hours in the witness box, he was shown a photograph of the then 15-year old, black-haired Damian Donaghy and asked whether his account could possibly be correct. "If you are saying that the shot I fired at the bomber missed the bomber and hit this fellow, it is possible," he replied.

Throughout, however, and in his statement, Soldier A, then a corporal in the Machine Gun Platoon of the Parachute Regiment, continued to claim that he had seen nail bombs being thrown and, from his position - which he claimed to be in a derelict building facing William Street - he had seen a young man about to light a nail bomb and preparing to throw it in his direction. Soldier A aimed his rifle at the man and shot at him twice, after which "his body went up and back with his hands flung up in the air". Another soldier, identified as Soldier B, has also claimed to have fired at the same "nailbomber".

The inquiry heard that either Soldier A or Soldier B was also responsible for the fatal wounding of John Johnston. Under questioning by Christopher Clark QC for the inquiry, Soldier A could not explain how either one or both of them "managed to shoot a 59-year old man who, according to a mass of evidence, was taking no part in any riotous behaviour". He could also not explain why, having hit a "nailbomber" he did not tell anyone until later that evening.

Under questioning by Arthur Harvey QC for the families, Soldier A could not account for a large number of discrepancies in the statements he provided after Bloody Sunday, most significantly his exact position when he opened fire. He denied Harvey's suggestion that his statement was, in fact, "made up for you" by someone else in order to correlate more accurately with the statement given by Soldier B and to provide justification for opening fire, without which he knew he would be "in deep trouble".

It was, said Mr Harvey "a simple fact, Corporal A, that you and Soldier B have simply, from the very beginning, that is from the moment you were seen by any senior officer, sought to give an identical account of what happened", including identical mistakes.

Harvey suggested to Soldier A that the shooting of Damian Donaghy and John Johnston, and the false accounts which followed, were the result of frustration. Because of their position, the platoon were "denied the opportunity for either speed or aggression" upon which the Parachute Regiment so prided itself. Donaghy and Johnston were shot by Soldiers A and B, said Harvey, because "quite literally, you refused to allow yourself to be categorised as an Aunt Sally or a crap-hat".

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