2 October 2003 Edition

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Former IRA member to give evidence - The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

BY FERN LANE

A former member of the IRA has told the Saville Inquiry that he is prepared to make a statement regarding what the organisation was doing on Blody Sunday. The former volunteer told the Derry Journal earlier this week that he will tell the inquiry that he, along with other volunteers, were under orders "not to engage the British Army but to observe the situation in case they tried to move in while the march was going on".

The man said that his decision to come forward was for the sake of the families. He said he had been "thinking about this for months and listening to what people like Martin McGuinness was saying about republicans coming forward" and had taken on board Lord Saville's comments that the failure of former volunteers to give evidence suggested that the IRA had something to hide.

"People want the truth about Bloody Sunday to come out and I feel that I have to come forward and tell what I know or else the Paras will get away with it for the second time," he stated.

Meanwhile, at the inquiry, the former Company Sergeant Major of Support Company, identified only by his last name of Lewis, said on Monday that he had witnessed another soldier - Soldier P - cocking his weapon just before he got into one of the armoured vehicles which then, as Arthur Harvey QC put it, mounted a "headlong charge" down Rossville Street in pursuit of fleeing marchers.

The inquiry also heard that there is "ample evidence" that members of Support Company, a company sergeant - O - and "many others" in the vehicle in which he travelled did the same immediately before they were deployed in what the army continues to claim was an arrest operation. Lewis said that if an individual felt threatened, he would be "justified" in taking such action. "Even though he was within the sanctuary of a vehicle, had not been fired upon, could not see any particular target?" queried Mr Harvey.

Lewis also told the inquiry that, although there had been "loss of control" on the day, particularly when some of his men ran into Glenfada Park and opened fire on terrified civilians, he believed that only "one or two" of the men under his command "may have fired one or two shots more than was necessary". He said he had been satisfied with the subsequent explanations of the 22 of them who had fired their weapons. He also denied having seen any of the shootings, although most happened within yards of his position and said that he had heard only 2 of the 100 SLR rounds that had been fired from the area around him.

In response to Harvey's questioning about the actions of his men as "they disappeared", apparently without orders, into Glenfada Park, Lewis repeatedly stated that their responses on the day were a matter for them as individuals, adding that their NCOs could not be expected to be "looking over their shoulders" at all times.

He was asked whether "if those men behave in a manner which is not merely grossly indisciplined, but mimics a situation of war against civilians" the career of their NCO - in this case Lewis - would be "on the line".

"No sir," replied Lewis.

He denied that, despite the acknowledged "enthusiasm" of his men prior to the march and their belief that they might have an opportunity to come face to face with their "adversaries" in the IRA, there had been a feeling of "elation" amongst his men after Bloody Sunday. He denied that they had talked with him about the events of the day, even though soldiers F and G - men who he himself describes as "carefree" and "mavericks" - could have killed up to six people. "Did you ever think perhaps maybe that you were a little out of touch with your men?" asked Harvey.

"I was never out of touch with my soldiers," replied Lewis.

Harvey put it to Lewis that his constant reiteration of his belief that he could not comment on, nor be held responsible for, the individual actions of men under his command was simply an attempt at preventing the inquiry from establishing the truth about the actions of 1 Para.

"As a result of that attitude," he said, "not only reflected in yourself, [but] throughout, no soldier, not one, has come forward here with any intention of explaining what happened on that day in a truthful, frank, open, and complete manner".

Lewis was told by Michael Mansfield QC that "there are many families here today and they have been waiting a very long time for someone to say how it came about for a tightly-disciplined group of men to have killed 13 civilians".

"I cannot tell lies to the families, I am sorry, sir, I cannot," replied Lewis. His claim was greeted by disbelieving laughter from the public gallery.


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