6 March 2003 Edition
Soldiers contradict Para line
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
BY FERN LANE
It seemed to me to be a pointless exercise, the Paras going into the Bogside, and I thought it would be a seriously stupid and dangerous thing for them to do.
A former member of the Parachute Regiment has told the Saville Inquiry that his company commander ordered paratroopers to go over the barrier at which they had been positioned on Bloody Sunday, despite being explicitly refused permission to go through by a senior officer from A Company of the Royal Green Jackets.
The soldier, identified only as INQ488, told the inquiry last week that he was part of C Company of 1 Para which was positioned behind barrier 14 preparing to mount an arrest operation after receiving reports that the Royal Green Jackets were taking a "real pasting" from rioters. His commanding officer, identified as Major 221A, requested the commanding officer, known as INQ2079, to move the barrier to allow C Company through. He was refused but nevertheless told his men "over you go".
Soldier INQ488 described how he chased after the fleeing crowd of "about 4,000" before seeing 1 Para Support Company, who had come through barrier 12 also in pursuit and thinking "Jammy bastards, getting there first".
Major 221A, in a statement to the inquiry, claims INQ2079 refused his request to open barrier 14 because "he was reluctant to expose his men to the ferocity of the rioters as they could not move the barricades aside whilst protecting themselves by their riot shields from the barrage of missiles.
"I told him firmly that if he would not move the barriers aside then we would go over them on foot."
However, video footage of C Company going over barrier 14, and the evidence of INQ2079 - who also gave evidence last week - contradicted the claims of the paratroopers. The video eshowed that there were no rioters in the vicinity of barrier 14 as C Company went over it. INQ2079 told the inquiry that he refused to move the barrier because he could see no reason for the Paras to launch an operation. At that moment "the march had moved and the rioters had, as they did, fallen back", he said. "And as the Parachute Regiment went through we were not, I believe, heavily involved."
Another member of the Royal Green Jackets, identified as INQ351, told the inquiry that shortly after C Company had gone through barrier 14 and had run around a bend in the road, he heard the first shots. "I cannot say how soon the shooting started after the Paras had gone through." He said. "It was all high velocity. I believed at the time that it was all army fire."
At some stage I saw a Para firing in the direction of the Rossville Flats like a stupid plonker. I will never forget it. I saw him fire four, five or six shots. After that, he changed his magazine and fired at least one further shot.
He said that he assumed the Paras had come under fire from petrol and nail bombers, although he had not seen or heard any explosions. "In those days we were under the Yellow Card. You were allowed to shoot petrol bombers or nail bombers," he said.
INQ351 then made his way into the Bogside where, he said, "At some stage I saw a Para firing in the direction of the Rossville Flats like a stupid plonker. I will never forget it. I saw him fire four, five or six shots. After that, he changed his magazine and fired at least one further shot. I assumed that he had emptied his first magazine. I did not see where the shots ended up or what they hit. I cannot remember seeing other Paras or civilians around. I do recall turning round and saying to UNK756 'what a plonker'. There were no other Royal Green Jackets around that area, and none of us fired a shot that day."
On Friday, a former captain of the Royal Green Jackets, Soldier 128, who was positioned in a derelict building around McCool's newsagent as a sniper on Bloody Sunday, told the inquiry that he, and another sniper, were spotted by some of the marches as they passed by, who began to attack the corrugated iron sheeting below their position. He then moved down to William Street where he saw General Ford and some men from the Parachute Regiment behind the barrier.
His first thought was, he said, that it was too late "for the Paras to go in as a snatch squad, as the rioting had finished and people had dispersed away from William Street. I could see no point in a snatch squad operation as the Paras had clearly missed the rioters. It seemed to me to be a pointless exercise, the Paras going into the Bogside, and I thought it would be a seriously stupid and dangerous thing for them to do.
"I was not aware then, nor indeed am I now, of precisely what that operation was intended to do; I still do not know. If it was intended to relieve the pressure on the barricade and to arrest those people who were attacking the barricade, then it was too late."
In his statement, Soldier 128 explained how he had followed the last paratrooper through the barrier. "He turned round, immediately went down on one knee to present a low target, put his rifle up to his shoulder to aim, and shouted 'Gunman'." He was actually pointing his rifle at the British Army observation post on the Embassy Ballroom. Soldier 128 said that he ran towards him shouting "No", falling over as he did so. By the time he had picked himself up the paratrooper had moved on.
He told the inquiry that heard a large number of rounds being fired and "I immediately feared the worst. It was always very difficult to identify from where shots were being fired in the Bogside because of the layout of the area, which would distort sounds. When you hear shots, as a soldier, your automatic reaction is to fire yourself, which is a difficult reaction to stop. I was concerned that the troops who had gone into the Bogside had believed that they were under fire and had lost control of their firing. When firing breaks out in tense situations it can spread very quickly and is very difficult to control. Direct action is often necessary."
Another soldier, INQ1002, also stationed at the barrier, told the inquiry that he could state "categorically" that he had not heard any gunfire before the Paras went through it. He told the inquiry that the rioters had gone and he saw a Para "taking aim at the corner of William Street and Rossville Street. He was aiming southwards down Rossville Street and I remember thinking it was very strange." He said he believed that something has "spooked" the Paras into opening fire.
In his statement, he said it was not until later in the day that he found out what had happened. "No one talked about it until we got back that evening, when we found out how many casualties there had been. No one could believe it, and we were all wondering what on earth had happened. As far as we were concerned, the situation had been under control. My feeling at the time was that the Paras had lost it and had just gone crazy and fired indiscriminately."
Also on Friday, INQ441, a sergeant in Support Company, claimed to the inquiry that his men had come under fire from nail bombers. At the time he told a television reporter that "they are on about the shooting, but nobody has spoken about the nail bombs. My platoon had nail bombs thrown at them and one of my men shot a man in the process of the throwing a nail bomb. As far as I am concerned, if a man throws a nail bomb at my platoon or at me he deserves the only thing that can happen back to him, and a rubber bullet will not stop a nail bomber, so the only thing you can stop him is with a bullet, as far as I am concerned."
Under questioning, however, INQ441 admitted that these claims were made entirely on the basis of what he had been told later by two of his men who had opened fire, Soldiers A and B (who have previously claimed to the inquiry to have both shot, and hit, the same mysterious 'nail bomber'). He had not heard or seen any nail bombers himself, nor had he heard any incoming gunfire.