11 September 2003 Edition
BLOODY SUNDAY INQUIRY: British Army General forced to make new statement
BY FERN LANE
AS THE BLOODY SUNDAY INQUIRY RESUMED at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster this week, it emerged that the British Army's most senior officer, General Sir Mike Jackson, has had to make a new statement to the Bloody Sunday inquiry. It is expected that the inquiry will hear the contents of the new statement during the course of this week.
Jackson, who was Adjutant to the Paras' commanding officer, Colonel Derek Wilford, on Bloody Sunday, appeared before the Saville inquiry last April, but the testimony of another officer in June, Major Ted Loden, raised serious questions about the veracity of Jackson's evidence.
Further, during Loden's evidence, MoD documents, apparently in Jackson's handwriting, surfaced; documents he had denied he was involved in producing. In submissions to the inquiry, Jackson was accused by counsel to some of the families of producing a "bogus'' army HQ report some days after Bloody Sunday, in an attempt to justify the number of rounds fired by the British army and the number of dead.
At the inquiry itself, on Tuesday this week, Soldier 032, then a private attached to Guinness Force, claimed to have seen a man on Bloody Sunday crawling away from the rubble barricade "trailing a long implement'', which he says he believed was a rifle. He said that the man, together with another, who was also "leopard crawling'' away from the barricade, gave him the impression of having had "military training''. Teenager Hugh Gilmore was shot dead as he attempted to crawl away from the rubble barricade on Bloody Sunday.
When asked by counsel to the inquiry whether it was possible that the men he had seen were, in fact, just two ordinary civilians, ``without military training, just crawling away as best they could'' he conceded that ``it is possible''. He also conceded that, whilst he was watching the two men, he had not seen any reason for any soldier to open fire on the ``targets''.
During questioning by Brian McCartney for some of the families, the inquiry also heard that the terminology used in the statement that Soldier 032 gave to the RMP after Bloody Sunday was rather less certain than that used in his statement to the Saville Inquiry. For example, in his RMP statement he said that the man crawling away from the barricade had ``what looked like a rifle'', a description which, as counsel put it, ``falls short of being a positive assertion that in fact it was a rifle''.
"27 years later you say it definitely was a rifle - Why have you become more positive than you were three days after the event?''
It was put to Soldier 032 that the reason he had not fired at the men crawling away from the barricade, even though he claims he thought they had had military training and one at least had a rifle, was because, in reality, he realised they were simply civilians trying to get to safety. It was also pointed out to him that all but one of the other soldiers present - as well as the civilians who witnessed the incident - told the tribunal that the man was unarmed.
"Can you give any explanation,'' asked counsel, ``as to why a group of trained observers, occupying the same location as you, witnessing the same events over the same distance as you, over the same period of time, give such conflicting accounts; can you assist this Inquiry with any explanation as to why that would be?''
"I am going to suggest to you,'' he continued, ``that really your evidence then, as it is today, has been influenced by an attempt to justify what was a bad decision by a number of soldiers to open fire on those men.
"I am going to suggest to you that your loyalty, the buddy-buddy system, your loyalty to the Parachute Regiment, your concern for your colleagues, has been a major factor in your interpretation of events that day - and that you have been unduly influenced to provide an account which misrepresents the reality of what occurred; do you follow me?
"Really, we are not talking about men here at all, are we? We are talking about a young boy of 17 crawling for his life, because that is the reality, is it not; a young boy of 17 crawling for his life, a moving target for three of your colleagues, gunned down in circumstances which even you today acknowledge could not be justified; is that not right?''
Soldier 032 responded, saying: "I do not think that is exactly what I said - but then you say I have been led on by other soldiers and then you say I am the only one with one account, everybody else has a different account''.
Also on Tuesday, the inquiry heard evidence from another member of Guinness Force, a corporal known as Soldier 039. 039 claims to have advanced, along with other members of his platoon, up Rossville Street in the face of oncoming fire. Under questioning, again by Mr McCartney, he insisted that this claim was true.
"So with the standards of those men who advanced in the Somme and Paschendale'' Mr McCartney asked, ``you would classify your movements on this day in quite the same category - you moved under fire?''
"That is correct, sir,'' replied Soldier 039. He was asked whether anyone had received a medal for this "heroic behaviour'' and, given that they did not, why it had been ignored. He said he could not give a reason.
Mr McCartney also pointed out that, in his statement to the RMP, 039 had also neglected to mention this advance under fire; instead his statement to them seemed "principally preoccupied with your sole contribution to this event, namely, firing a rubber bullet at a retreating female''.
The solder claimed that the girl had been throwing objects at his men, but the inquiry heard that there was no supporting evidence whatsoever for this allegation. "Is this not simply a fabricated allegation to justify the callous and irresponsible action of discharging a rubber bullet weapon at a teenage girl?'' asked Mr McCartney. "No, sir'' responded 039. Mr McCartney asked: "Is it something you are proud of today and can reflect with satisfaction that you did your job for Queen and country on this particular day, shooting at unarmed women?''
Soldier 039 said he was merely doing his job. He refused to apologise for his actions on Bloody Sunday, saying that "You only apologise when you have done something wrong.''