25 September 2003 Edition

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No remorse from Para witnesses


The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

The Bloody Sunday inquiry heard on Tuesday how one of the soldiers involved in the shootings told the journalist Toby Harnden during an interview that "everyone killed on that day was guilty of at least riotous behaviour or at worst, out and out terrorism".

The soldier, identified only as J, was another in the long and sorry parade of former British soldiers currently appearing before Lord Saville. Although within "touching distance" of as many as ten of the victims when they were gunned down on Bloody Sunday, they could remember seeing nothing except, of course, the ubiquitous 'gunmen' and 'nailbombers' and doing nothing except firing at, according to them, perfectly legitimate targets.

When questioned about that comment by Arthur Harvey QC for the families during a ferocious cross-examination, Soldier J, then a Lance Corporal in the Anti-Tank Platoon, denied making the comments, saying that Harnden had indulged in "journalistic flair" and had "invented" the quote. In the article, the soldier also went on to describe the feelings of "elation" amongst himself and his colleagues after Bloody Sunday.

It was pointed out by Harnden that these comments, closely reflected those of another soldier, known as U, who gave evidence to the inquiry on Monday and who observed that "I have been asked how I felt about the events of the day when it was over. Frankly, I felt elated. Everyone was on a high. We had been in, had engaged gunmen and had shot them.

"That is how we honestly felt and I still believe, hand on heart, that we did a good job. When we got back to barracks, people all around were saying 'well done'. It was like a mutual appreciation society. After the day, we were puffing our chests out and congratulating each other on our terrific fire and movement, but really, it was pure luck that none of us were shot."

Harvey suggested to Soldier J that he was not prepared to openly call Toby Harnden a liar "because you are the liar and you know that". He asked J whether he personally or any of his colleagues had anything to fear from the truth about Bloody Sunday being revealed. "No sir, nothing," he replied.

"If you have told the truth," said Harvey, "could you explain why not one paratrooper from your group claims to have shot anyone at the barricade in Rossville Street - other than soldier F - where six people were killed; four of whom were probably killed by people who were in your company?

"Can you explain how, after they went into Glenfada Park, where you were, there were three bodies; behind them there was the body of Gerry McKinney, the body of Gerry Donaghy and not one soldier, you included, has given any evidence as to how those men died?

"Just across the road, quite literally a stone's throw, there was the body of Hugh Gilmore; there was the body of Barney McGuigan and behind him the body of Paddy Doherty. Can you explain, if you are interested in the truth and if the men you represent are interested in the truth, how not one soldier, including you, has described any circumstances which would justify the death of any of those men; can you explain that?

"How have you helped the truth of Bloody Sunday to come out?" Harvey continued, "When you were present, in touching distance, of men who killed at least ten people and you cannot explain the circumstances which would justify the killing of one of them; how is that if you want the truth to come out?"

"I do not know," responded Soldier J, "but as far as I am concerned, the truth is that we were not going in there to fire the first rounds; we were accosted, attacked by a riotous mob and that was the truth that we wanted to come out."

On Monday, Soldier U told the inquiry that he believed that someone other than a British soldier killed John Young, who was killed at the barricade and whose body it is thought he had seen being thrown into the back of a Saracen.

In his statement, U said: "I also have the picture of the boy who had been shot in the head ingrained in my mind... I have seen dead bodies before that one, but that one was somehow different; I do not know why. He was so young and it seemed such a waste. In all honesty, I do not think now he was a gunman. I do not recall what I thought at the time. I think he just got caught up in it. I think someone shoved him out to throw some stones. I do not know who shot him or why or what he was doing."

Under cross-examination, again by Arthur Harvey QC, Soldier U told the inquiry that had never had "the slightest interest" in finding out who he had shot and killed on Bloody Sunday. He was asked by Harvey: "Are you prepared to assist [the present inquiry] in trying to establish who the person was you shot dead that day?"

"I have to be honest?" asked U. "Yes, be honest," said Mr Harvey. "I am not interested," replied the former soldier.

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