Issue 2 - 2023 200dpi

26 September 2002 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Bloody Sunday

The revelations continue


GENERAL SIR FRANK KITSON spent over four hours before the Bloody Sunday inquiry on Tuesday, on the first day of the hearings in London. Kitson, famously the author of the 1971 book on counter-insurgency, Low Intensity Operations, was also the commander of the British army's 39 Brigade, which included the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment - known as "Kitson's Private Army" - at the time of Bloody Sunday.


He defended the men of the regiment, denying that they were "thugs in uniform", as other army officers are said to have described them, and insisting that they merely had an enviably fearsome reputation for "efficiency and effectiveness" in carrying out operations.

"I do not think 1 Para went about their duties in an excessively forceful way" he said. Under cross-examination he said that the Parachute Regiment "came to be disliked by both communities, not because of any brutality, but because they were very good at sorting out these problems".

Standing a few feet from the families of the dead and wounded, Kitson claimed that the soldiers responsible for the killing of fourteen men were in fact caring professionals, dedicated to saving lives, who had shown great "compassion" for the dying and wounded.

"The Para were just jolly good and there was no conceivable way you could overlook the fact that they got there very quickly, they were ready to go at the drop of a hat and they were experienced," he said.

Kitson, who is now 75 and who received a CBE for his work in other British colonies, chiefly Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, denied that the tactics he outlined in his book were used in formulating the military planning before Bloody Sunday. Despite the fact that he had command of some ten Belfast based battalions, including 1 Para, he insisted that his only role prior to 30 January 1972 was as subordinate to General Sir Robert Ford, the commander of land forces in the six counties.

  Downing Street was basically saying [to the British army] 'you've got to get it under control in Derry because of the impact on the British electorate. It doesn't look good seeing British squaddies getting thumped on TV. What are you going to do about it? Those pictures must never happen again  
- former MOD Information Officer, Collin Wallace.


Last week in Derry a former BBC producer, David Mills, told the inquiry that he had been given the impression by British army officials that the nail bombs found on the body of Gerard Donaghy on Bloody Sunday had been planted. He said:

"I would have been testing that possibility with them and from their body language, the way that they responded, I am quite sure that I concluded that the strong suspicions that they had been planted were actually shared by the two of them."

He also said that it was evident that "soldiers were prepared to lie about the circumstances surrounding live gunfire to protect themselves", although he was prevented from interviewing the soldiers after what he believed was political intervention.

Mills said that he had met the former Ministry of Defence information officer, Colin Wallace, and Leiutenant Colonel Overbury, whilst researching for a programme on the Widgery Tribunal. He said that he got the "clear impression from them that they viewed the defence of the Army's position as something of a charade."


The former MOD information officer Colin Wallace also gave evidence to the inquiry over two days last week. He confirmed that as well as his role as information officer, he was also involved in psychological operations, or PsyOps, with the secretive Information Policy Unit of the British army.

He agreed that an MOD document entitled (itals) An introduction of psychological operations (itals)‚ published in 1974, which was read out to the inquiry, was accurate. The document states that "PsyOps is an all-embracing term defined by Nato as planned psychological activities in peace and war, directed towards enemy, friendly and neutral audiences, in order to create attitudes and behaviour favourable to the achievement of political and military objectives.

"Strategic psywar pursues long-term and mainly political objectives. It is designed to undermine an enemy or hostile group to fight and to recuse the capacity to wage war. It can be directed against the dominating political party, the government and/or against the population as a whole, or particular elements of it. It is planned and controlled by the highest political authority."

Wallace was asked by Counsel, "To your recollection, was the Information Policy Unit involved in such activities in January 1972?" - to which he responded - "Yes, they were". In his statement to the inquiry, Wallace described the role of PsyOps in the Six Counties, saying, "Its role was to use psychological means in support of a military objective. In particular, its main function was to maintain public support for the Security Forces and their activities, to cause dissension in the ranks of the terrorist groups and to wean their supporters away from them. To fulfil its role, the NI PsyOps unit spent a considerable amount of effort studying all the terrorist groups, their front organisations and the politicians who supported them."

"To the press it was a liaison section that provided a link between the operations network and the press room. At certain levels within the security Forces, it was seen as a counter propaganda organisation dealing in white information. It did, however, have a third and totally deniable role, in which black operations, popularly known as 'dirty tricks' were used."

Referring to Bloody Sunday, Wallace told the inquiry that he believed the "genesis" of the military plan for Bloody Sunday had come from the previous weekend's march at Magilligan, when nationalist civil rights protestors were seen on television screens being beaten by members of the Parachute Regiment.

"Immediately after, unionist politicians were outraged by the Army's apparent failure to deal with what was an illegal march," he said. "Complaints made by Unionist politicians to Downing Street resulted in a strong directive from the Ministry of Defence that such images should never again appear on TV screens. I believe that the Magilligan incident was the genesis of the arrest operation which became Bloody Sunday.

"I also believe that this was one of the reasons why the Parachute Regiment was given the task of carrying out the scoop-up operation. I think the Army and Ministry of Defence in general felt that the Parachute Regiment image had been damaged by the TV coverage at Magilligan. The feeling was that the march the following weekend would be made up of two elements, the civil rights marchers and the hooligan element and, therefore, if the Parachute Regiment were to succeed in arresting a large number of the hooligan element, that this clearly would take some of the pressure off London from the Stormont Government."



Wallace also confirmed that he had been interviewed by researchers for Jimmy McGovern's film, (itals) Sunday (itals). He told the researcher that; "At 6 o'clock on the night of the Magilligan march, we all sat and watched the news. Depending on where you were sitting, you saw either pictures of Paras being abused, or Paras beating working class women. There was no way of looking at those pictures in a detached way. Faulkner got on to Downing Street and said 'You've got to do something about this'. He said that if nothing was done then Stormont would fall. And Ted Heath was increasingly disillusioned with Stormont.

"Downing Street was basically saying [to the British army] 'you've got to get it under control in Derry because of the impact on the British electorate. It doesn't look good seeing British squaddies getting thumped on TV. What are you going to do about it? Those pictures must never happen again."

Wallace also told the researcher; "It was all linked to public opinion polls. Shots of female demonstrators abusing the Paras made them look helpless. Along with shots of the DYH, the British Army was getting a poor image. This has got to be stopped, was the general message we were getting. There were cables from Downing Street to us asking how we were going to reverse all this. I've never seen as many PR directives as there were from Downing Street that week."

As a result, said Wallace, he along with other Army officials "hatched a big stunt" for Bloody Sunday. "It was decided to put on a bit of a show and have hundreds of arrests in front of the TV cameras."

"The key thing was to effect a large number of arrests of the hooligan element, who were the main bone of contention for the traders," he said, "and that was one of the reasons why we were inviting the press to go along to actually witness the success of the Army operation."

The decision to send in the Paras was taken, Wallace told the (Itals) Sunday (Itals) researcher, because "it would not do to use the resident battalions, because they were trying to build up hearts and minds relationships. But if the Paras came in - they could get tough. The Paras were used to placate the Unionists too - the new get-tough policy - we won't tolerate the DYH [Derry Young Hooligans], we'll send in the Paras."

He confirmed that he had referred to some of the Paras as "downright thugs" and that there was a similar "undercurrent of feeling" within other battalions. The strategy was, he said "unbelievably high risk", but it was felt necessary because "we wanted a quick response in the British press to boost the ratings of the Tory Government."

Wallace also told the inquiry that, prior to Bloody Sunday, the British intelligence services believed that the chances of the IRA mounting an attack on Bloody Sunday were "remote", but when the extent of the massacre became known, the MOD produced an overnight press briefing, claiming that several of the dead had links to the IRA, a claim which was flatly contradicted by his own department's intelligence.

"To the best of our knowledge only one of those killed had any republican links and that itself was very tenuous, as a member of Fianna Éireann The information was completely wrong as we had nothing on those individuals," he said. "The reference to four of the deceased being on the wanted list is a big mystery to me, because it broke all the rules that we had."

As the Widgery Tribunal began, Wallace said, intelligence reports were rewritten to suggest that there had been reliable intelligence prior to Bloody Sunday that the IRA were intent on using the march as cover to attack the British Army.

"After Bloody Sunday, when the Widgery Tribunal was set up, most of the briefings coming out from Whitehall, particularly the Ministry of Defence, indicated that they had reliable intelligence prior to the march that the IRA were going to have a confrontation with the Army" he said. "After Bloody Sunday they retrospectively rewrote the intelligence reports, creating a threat which did not exist."

Wallace's career with the British army came to and end in 1975, when he was sacked for leaking a classified document to a journalist. It is believed, however, that the real reason was that he was threatening to expose the scandal of the abuse of young boys at the Kincora Boys' Home in East Belfast, run by loyalist William McGrath.

Shortly afterwards, Wallace was charged with the murder of his best friend Jonathan Lewis, who was found in the River Arun in West Sussex. He was found guilty of manslaughter in 1981 and jailed for ten years, although the sentence was overturned in the Court of Appeal in 1996 and Wallace was awarded £30,000 for wrongful dismissal. Whilst serving his sentence he sent a file to Margaret Thatcher, giving details of the dirty tricks campaign in the Six Counties during the 1970s. He was dismissed as a crank but in 1990 the British government was forced to admit that such a campaign had indeed taken place.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1