2 July 2010
Bloody Sunday – British Prime Minister ‘deeply sorry’
“I AM deeply patriotic,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told a hushed House of Commons after the publication of the Saville Inquiry Report.
“I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear.
“There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”
In the British House of Commons the silence was palpable.
Amongst the MPs there were those who had planned to complain about the cost and question the wisdom of holding another inquiry but suddenly anything other than contrition was inappropriate.
For the people of Derry, who had gathered to support the families of the victims and watching David Cameron deliver his statement on a giant television screen erected in Guildhall Square, there was the realisation that a milestone had, indeed, been reached and even a British Prime Minister, a Conservative administration, was not going to deny the moment.
Cameron listed a whole litany of crimes carried out by paratroopers:-
- Firing the first shot;
- Shooting without warning;
- Shooting unarmed civilians;
- Shooting people as they fled, as they lay dying, as they tried to assist the injured and dying, or as they waved a white handkerchief as a signal of their peaceful intent;
- And, after the shooting stopped, telling lies to cover up those crimes.
Those who opened fire had no justification and those who were injured and killed posed no threat “or indeed was doing anything else that could, on any view, justified in shooting”.
“These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. There is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified,” said Cameron.
“For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss.
“Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the Government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”
Saville’s key findings
British paratroopers were responsible for all those killed and injured in Derry on January 30th 1972.
The soldiers opened fire without any justification and failed to issue any prior warnings. Soldiers had their weapons cocked in contravention of guidelines. In at least one shooting, illegal ‘dum-dum’ bullets were used by the British Army.
None of those killed or injured was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury when they were shot.
Soldiers did not fire in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombs at soldiers.
Some of the victims had been shot in the back as they attempted to flee, one was shot as he way crawling away, another as he lay mortally wounded, a father as he attempted to attend his dying son.
Soldiers knowingly put forward false accounts of the circumstances and their actions during the shootings, both in their initial statements and to the inquiry.
No blame was placed on the Civil Rights Association, the organisers of the march.
THE Saville Report has condemned Widgery to the dustbin of history, said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking from Derry shortly after the report was released.
“Today is a day for the families of those killed and those injured on Bloody Sunday. They have campaigned for 38 years for the truth and for justice. They have campaigned for the British Government to end their policy of cover-up and concealment,” said Adams. ”The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear: the British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”
The Sinn Féin leader added: ”Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorised of the highest levels within the British Establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”
Martin McGuinness described the day as “a watershed for Derry, a day of extraordinary historic significance and one which the families have been vindicated. It is also a momentous day for truth.” While leading Sinn Féin figures had travelled to Derry to await the publication of the report, the SDLP chose to travel to London. Mark Durkan, the SDLP MP for Foyle, told the British House of Commons the dead and wounded had been “absolutely exonerated” by the findings of the Saville Report.
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson accepted the Bloody Sunday shootings in which 13 people were killed and 13 injured were “wrong” and “unjustified”.
Robinson said he hoped Saville’s findings would provide the families with “a sense of justice” and called for new initiatives so that all victims of the Troubles could find ease and some form of satisfaction.
“As First Minister, I accept the report. I accept the conclusions of the report that what happened was wrong and unjustified,” he said in Belfast.
But some of his party colleagues were less generous in their comments.
DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said unionists would be glad that “this sorry saga of a report is finally over” and thanked the British Army for its role.
DUP MP William McCrea said it would be wrong to support “a hierarchy of victims”.
The UUP’s Ken Maginnis accused the Saville Report of being “one-eyed”.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the ultimate injustice was the “unjustified and unjustifiable killing of innocent civilians by those who claimed to be keeping the peace”.
“It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth – instead, justice and truth were then denied and cast aside.”
He said that “a shameful attempt to distort history” has now been set aside and the “truth has been set free”.
President Mary McAleese said she hopes the Saville Report will provide the families of the victims “at long last, the consolation that the world now knows the awful truth about Bloody Sunday”.
“UNJUSTIFIED and unjustifiable, those are words we have waited since January 30th 1972 to hear,” said Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.
He was speaking after emerging from the Guildhall just moments after listening to the British Prime Minister announce the findings and express regret.
“It can now be proclaimed to the world that the dead and the wounded of Bloody Sunday, civil rights marchers, one and all, were innocent and gunned down in their own streets by soldiers who had been given to believe that they could kill with impunity,” said Tony.
For the families and their supporters, the day began with sorrow and symbolism and ended with vindication and relief. Some families had visited the graves of those who died to pray and lay flowers. They had retraced the route of the civil rights march, burst their way through a banner depicting the Widgery Report and made their way to the Guildhall to wait for the Saville Report to be released.
Outside, thousands of people had gathered in Guildhall Square. They were there in solidarity with the victims and their families, they were there in hopes of witnessing the truth, they were there to find answers to their own questions and lay the ghosts of a day that had cut to the heart of the people of Derry and lay as an open wound for so many years.
Official choreography had deemed that the findings of the Saville report would be announced first by the British Prime Minister addressing the House of Commons. But when a ‘thumbs-up’ from some of the relatives was signalled through a window of the Guildhall, a cheer rang out from supporters outside. The verdict of the report had been delivered to the people of Derry by Derry people and the British PM just had to wait his turn.
The first to address waiting supporters and the world’s media, Tony Doherty said after 38 years the victims and their families had been vindicated and British paratroopers had been disgraced.
“When the state kills its citizens it is in the interests of all that those responsible be held to account. It is not just Derry, or one section of the people, but democracy itself which needs to look out. The British people need to know, the Irish people need to know, the world now knows,” said Tony.
Bloody Sunday was the price the Bogside paid for Free Derry, he said. The punishment meted out to the people of Derry on Bloody Sunday and the repression that followed was the same as that suffered by ordinary people everywhere when they stand against injustice. “Let our truth stand with their truth too,” said Tony.
Kate Nash, whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, criticised British General Mike Jackson. Jackson was a captain in the Paras on Bloody Sunday and went on to become head of the British Army.
“Thirty-eight years ago, a story went around the world, concocted by General Mike Jackson. He said there were gunmen and bombers on our streets, and they were shot and killed. Today, that lie has been uncovered.”
As each bereaved family came to the microphone, one after another, to declare their loved one “innocent”, the emotional intensity of the day increased.
Kevin McElhinney’s sister Jean said her brother had posed no danger to anyone when he was shot dead. “Thirty-eight years, four months, 15 days almost to the minute when he died, Kevin is innocent,” said Jean.
Liam Wray said his brother Jim was trying to flee to safety when he was gunned down and as he lay there defenceless and dying he was deliberately shot again.
“There was no justification for either of these shots. This inquiry has vindicated the Wray family and, much more so, the people of Derry. We always knew the truth, now the world knows the truth,” said Liam.
Catherine Kelly, whose younger brother Michael had been killed, said after waiting almost 40 years at last the truth has been told. “I say to my little brother Michael, at last you can rest in peace.”
Gerry Duddy said his brother Jackie was running from the soldiers when he was shot and posed no threat when he was killed. “The Widgery Report tried to destroy our loved ones’ good names. Today we cleared them and destroyed Widgery. I’m delighted to say, Jackie was innocent.”
Prime Minister David Cameron told the British Parliament on the Saville Inquiry Report into Bloody Sunday:
The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt; there is nothing equivocal; there are no ambiguities.
What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.’
Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of our armed forces and for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.
Chief of the General Staff of the British Army, General Sir David Richards, said:
I fully support the report’s description of Bloody Sunday as ‘a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland’, and the report leaves me in no doubt that serious mistakes and failings by officers and soldiers on that terrible day led to the deaths of 13 civilians who did nothing that could have justified their shooting.
The Prime Minister has apologised on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved on the day, and I fully support that statement.
We must never forget the tragic events of Bloody Sunday.