18 September 2003 Edition
Stonewalling soldiers give evidence - The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
BY FERN LANE
The Bloody Sunday inquiry heard evidence last week from the soldier in command of the Anti-Tank platoon of Support Company - the unit believed to have been responsible for killing up to eleven people on Bloody Sunday and wounding a further seven. Throughout his evidence, the former lieutenant, identified as 119, simply stonewalled the lawyers representing the families, repeating over and over again that he could remember almost nothing of the day, except being fired on by "gunmen", and claiming not to have seen any of the killings. He told the inquiry that after Bloody Sunday, he had never given the events of that day any further reflection, saying "I just got on with my career".
He even denied seeing soldier F shoot and kill Michael Kelly, although he, 119, was within feet of F. Under questioning from Arthur Harvey, QC, 119 denied the suggestion that his failure to recollect any significant details was "quite simply a ploy to protect yourself against a charge of perjury?" Earlier, he had also denied, despite the overwhelming evidence, that he was the officer in command of soldiers F and G when, while in Belfast, they had severely beaten Francis Creagh and Roman Muldoon before dumping them on the Shankill Road.
The inquiry was reminded of the evidence of one member of 119's platoon, Soldier 027, who said that the platoon lieutenant had told his men to "get some kills" the following day. Soldier 119 denied saying this. He also said that he was unaware that some of his men were "dangerously overexcited about what was going to happen the next day and that they held what may have been a simplistic view of the Bogside being nothing other than a den of the IRA and now being the time to engage with the IRA as had not happened before".
Of 119's claims to have seen almost nothing on Bloody Sunday, Harvey put it to him that; "you did witness your soldiers engage in wholesale bloody murder and you have chosen to keep the truth completely registered within your own heart and mind and just allow each of the soldiers to sink or swim according to their own evidence".
"I would disagree entirely," replied 119.
"The only other explanation," continued Harvey, "is that you are a wholly ineffective officer; that your men were totally out of control and they had little, if any, respect for you as a commander?". Again 119 disagreed.
He was asked by Lord Anthony Gifford about the killing of James Wray. Lord Gifford suggested to 119 that he had seen soldier G shoot and wound James Wray in the leg before "finishing him off" as he lay helpless on the ground. "I want you to tell us," he said. "Is it the case that you witnessed Soldier H commit an act which is so unspeakable and wicked that you would rather not talk about it?"
"No, sir," 119 replied.
I saw nothing
On Wednesday last week, soldier INQ405, then a private in 1 Para and Driver of Guinness Force vehicles, told the inquiry that, despite driving into Bogside and hearing sustained gunfire, he had not seen a single member of the British Army fire a weapon. In his statement, he said that members of his platoon did not learn of the killings on Bloody Sunday until later that evening.
"We did not know what had happened until we switched on transistor radios and heard the news," he said. "The gist of it was that demonstrators had been shot. It was no surprise and I was not bothered."
He was questioned by Arthur Harvey, who pointed out that his statement said "demonstrators" as opposed to "gunmen", as the army was to claim. "Was the general attitude of Guinness Force, that if persons who had participated in a march that had been banned by the government and was consequently illegal, were shot dead, then it was of no concern, even in a humanitarian sense?" he asked.
INQ405 replied: "No, it was not. It was just when I said that I meant, I were not surprised that people were shot, it was the amount of gunfire that had been going down. When I said I was not bothered, that were not meant in a callous way - it was when you switched the television on in Northern Ireland every night, you see people getting shot, blown to pieces yourself and you experienced it yourself, it do not have the impact that it should do."
On Monday this week, the inquiry heard from Soldier K, a sniper responsible for the shooting of Kevin McIlhinney. He claimed that the dead man had been carrying a rifle, but was accused by Brian McCartney of deliberately misleading the inquiry by saying that the weapon, a Lee Enfield, was "nearly three feet long" when he knew that it is, in fact, nearly a foot longer, in order to account for his earlier evidence that he had not seen the muzzle of the rifle he claimed the boy was carrying. This, said McCartney, was a example of Soldier K's cunning.
"You have a predisposition to be cunning," he continued, "just as most snipers do, concealing themselves, hiding facts, distortion. This is just another example of the cunning method that you employ to subtly wriggle out of a shot that you took that day and, with hindsight, are ashamed to admit to."
McCartney suggested to K that the shot he had taken at McIlhinney was nothing more than an "exhibition shot", taken to "demonstrate your ability as a marksman and your willingness to take human life - the life of a young boy".
After the shooting, K had applied the safety catch to his own weapon, an odd thing to do "in a combat situation". This was, McCartney suggested, "because you knew when you made that shot, you killed a youth and you also knew you had killed him in circumstances where there was absolutely no need to".
"He crawled, fighting for his life, a young boy; he worked in Liptons, stacking shelves, a 17-year old, a citizen entitled to the same rights and protection. Your duty was to protect that kid, not use him as target practice."
McCartney told K that he was "mentally aggressive" and had come to the inquiry with an "obdurate attitude". On Bloody Sunday, he told K, "you were delighted with yourself, you had got a wee kill this day, you were happy as Larry, smiling away in the back of a truck afterwards for the photographer, the old regimental magazine. 'Sergeant K quietly reflects with pleasure on yet another kill'. You could see the headline, could you not?"