Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

19 December 2002 Edition

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'Ghastly people' killed their own - soldiers


  this type of rioting was quite usual and my fellow soldiers and I used to think of it as like being at a football match  
- Soldier INQ145

In a statement to the Bloody Sunday inquiry on Tuesday a former Lance Bombardier in 22nd Light Air Defence Regiment said that he did not believe that all of the dead been shot by the British Army. Soldier INQ145 claimed that "At least four dead bodies were already in the Rossville flats before the afternoon of January 30, 1972. This was common knowledge at the time. I remember being at the RUC station at Strand Road, having something to eat after coming off duty at 6pm that evening. There were two soldiers in the police station and they said in relation to the shooting of Jack Duddy that he had been shot by 'one of his own'."

INQ145 went on to claim that petrol bombs were "definitely" thrown at British soldiers manning barrier 12 on Bloody Sunday. He also claimed that he had heard nail bombs going off in the distance. In his statement the soldier said that "this type of rioting was quite usual and my fellow soldiers and I used to think of it as like being at a football match", but denied that he could have confused his belief that petrol bombs were thrown on Bloody Sunday with one of the many other riot situations he had been involved with. Under questioning, INQ145 admitted that he had not actually seen any petrol bombers, merely that he had "seen petrol bombs coming".

He insisted, in direct contradiction to all the other evidence previously given to the tribunal, that he had heard between 10 and 20 explosions throughout the afternoon and that the intensity of the bombing increased after the paras had gone through the barricades into the Bogside. Asked whether he could have confused the sound of explosions with the sound of gunfire, he replied; "When you are in a situation like we was, you do not get confused. The only thing you are looking out for is yourself and your mates." Almost immediately afterwards, however, INQ145 told the inquiry that he could not remember which officer had given him order to fire gas in the direction of the crowd, saying "it was confused. It was confusing out there when people are coming at you."

However, another soldier, Lieutenant INQ109 was also present at barrier 12 and in his statement told the inquiry that "I do not recall hearing any explosions at this time nor at any other time that day. However, I would have had great difficulty in hearing any explosions, as it was extremely noisy as the riot was taking place at the barrier. I think it unlikely that nailbombs and petrol bombs would have been thrown at us that day because there were so many people involved in the march".

INQ145 claimed that he had been told over the radio that gunmen in the Rossville flats had fired two shots in the direction of soldiers, but could not explain why no mention of such a communication was recorded in the regimental log. He said that after the paras had gone through the barrier, a large group of rioters had reassembled in front of it some twenty minutes later and began throwing missiles. When it was suggested that this was not possible, as there was an entire battalion of paratroopers between the crowd and the barrier, he said, "most probably they was in between them, but what about the side streets? I mean, they was infiltrating from all over. They were coming from side streets, they were coming over walls, everything. Perhaps the Paras was in between them, but we have had situations like that before, where we put barriers across, but sometimes they have even got behind us. You know, it is just one of those situations." The former Lance Bombardier then became unwell and was unable to continue giving evidence.

The inquiry also heard from the statement of a former captain in the Coldstream Guards, who was commanding one of the barriers. In it he refers to the marchers on Bloody Sunday as "ghastly people", saying "as the company commander, I needed to be at the command post at all times. I imagine that as the march passed along in front of me and the men at the barrier, stones and bottles were thrown at the men by these ghastly people. As the men were standing behind the barrier, each man would have either been carrying his weapon on his shoulder or pointing it up in the air, depending on his personal choice."


Evasions, slur and innuendo

Progress comes slowly at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry


On the day I never felt that the brigade had the day properly under control. In fact, my feeling at the time was that the day ran us rather than we ran the day. Possibly the reason is that people were looking in two directions for their orders. 

- Soldier INQ406, former Captain in 22 Light Air Defence Regiment, giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

At a press conference held by the families in the days before the Saville Inquiry moved to London, John Kelly said that he believed that it was the point at which things would really "get going" and, on behalf of the families of the dead and the wounded, he begged all those involved on the British side to, finally, tell the truth.

As the inquiry reaches the end of its first term in London there seems little chance of these pleas being heard within the confines of the House of Lords and the MoD just over the road from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

Nevertheless, John Kelly's hope that the inquiry would start getting closer to the truth of the matter has, despite those faceless civil servants in the MoD who have taken such care to lose 1000 photographs, edited cine footage, destroyed crucial evidence and withheld crucial government papers until threatened with the law, begun to bear fruit. Gradually, painfully, the narrative of Bloody Sunday is starting to unfold even as the British Army's version of events ignominiously falls apart and each level in the chain of command seeks to apportion blame downwards.

When questioning former cabinet advisor Sir Arthur Hockaday last week (who, incidentally, was instrumental in the development and application of "deep interrogation" techniques - that is, torture - in the six counties). Seamus Treacy for some of the families skilfully set out the political environment in 1971/72. It was, he said, a time when the British political establishment had little difficulty in countenancing the systematic breach of human rights within the six counties and "the use of unlawful lethal force". This little exchange between two British soldiers, captured on the Porter tapes on 28 January 1972, admirably illustrated his point;

"I can see the nailbomber. Do you want me to shoot him? He has nothing in his hands at the moment. I can see the nailbomber but he does not appear to have anything in his hands. Over."

"Register absolutely certain the person you can see is the nailbomber."


"Shoot him dead".

"Missed him by about two inches".

"Bad shooting".

The British government, not wishing to become directly embroiled in Ireland, desperate to avoid a return to direct rule, was pressurising Faulkner to offer some minor concessions‚ to the nationalist community in order to buy off the SDLP. However, under pressure itself from unionism, it could not persuade Faulkner to introduce such reforms unless the British army scored a major victory over the IRA and until it had successfully crushed the impending nationalist uprising. So the scene was set for Bloody Sunday and then for Operation Motorman and the ending of the no-go areas.

The chain of command ran from the heart of the British cabinet and the Stormont administration, right down to those assigned to do the killing, and those assigned cover up afterwards. It necessarily involved relatively few people but along the way others not immediately connected had to be drawn into the deception either to promote the lie or to assist with the official whitewash.

For example many, most even, of the commanding officers and soldiers from 8 Brigade do not seem to have been in on the plan but they have doggedly repeated the line fed to them by the military so often that they actually seem to believe it in defiance of the evidence; a habit which makes them look like fools. Then there are others who know exactly what happened because they saw it, like Soldier INQ1832, personal assistant to Ford but who continue to deny the truth. INQ1832 made his own private, handwritten notes about the day believing that the events would come back, as he said, to "haunt" him. He kept them carefully and carried them with him to Germany. Then, inexplicably, he destroyed them. The statements he gave, both to Widgery and to Saville contained nothing, as Michael Mansfield pointed out, that could conceivably haunt anyone.

The problem for the British is that they are trying to advance an argument which is based on two mutually incompatible elements; firstly that the army did nothing wrong, and secondly, that if it did do something wrong, it was because it was provoked and in any case it had not followed orders. The argument defies logic and so cannot be sustained. Arthur Harvey QC, who looks and sounds like an Ulster Unionist, only better behaved, has been particularly effective in exposing the sophistry employed by senior British officers in defence of the indefensible. This exchange between him and Colonel Steele, who said that he still believed Bloody Sunday was a "good operation" is a particular favourite:

Q: "..would it be correct to say that the operation as envisaged by General Ford, scoop-up of some 3 to 400 persons, was utterly unrealistic?"

A. "It was optimistic."

Q. "Was it not utterly unrealistic?"

A. "It was certainly optimistic."

Q. Was it unrealistic; do you know the difference?"

But what of the paras, those who pulled the trigger, and their commanding officer Colonel Wilford? What must they be thinking as they consider the proceedings in Central Hall and realise that they are slowing and inexorably being set up by their military and political superiors to take the blame? Once the claim that the army was fired on first has finally been thoroughly disproved by the families' legal team, as it surely will be, the only option left to the British is to fall back on the claim that, for six minutes on 30th January 1972, the paras went mad and that they shot into a fleeing crowd simply because they felt like doing it and not as a result of what they had been told.

At the inquiry itself, it is noticeable that the witnesses from the British side, particularly the military witnesses (those who are not screened) rarely, if ever, look over at the relatives‚ gallery as they give their evidence. Watching them, resolutely refusing to meet the gaze of the families, for days on end in several cases, I hoped that it was because they found it difficult to look into the faces of those to whom they caused so much grief and pain. Actually, I suspect it is because they hardly notice them there, sitting less than thirty feet away, listening patiently, hearing the same evasions and obfuscations, slur and innuendo they have been forced to hear for three decades. Because beneath the exaggerated politeness (something which the British elite reserve for those they especially despise) and the bland trotting out of words like "tragedy" - probably under instruction from their own lawyers - lies a truly desperate degree of indifference by the military about the lives they have taken in Ireland. They couldn't care less.

At times, some of them - and General Ford particularly sticks in the memory - have appeared almost bewildered at being required to account either for their own actions or for the actions of soldiers under their command. Almost to a man, the prior military experience of the senior commanders was in the colonies and, virtually without exception, they regarded Irish people in exactly the same appalling way as they regarded the populations of their other colonies; unruly natives whose incipient uprising had to be quelled at any cost in order to restore British law‚. Now, thirty years on, being expected to acknowledge the humanity of those killed in pursuit of the British state's political objective seems to genuinely confuse them.

In the midst of this, the families have had to battle with the disruption of constant travelling to London and the attendant separation from family, the strain of which showed briefly on the face of Linda Roddy (sister of William Nash and daughter of Alexander Nash) as she spoke at a recent public meeting in London. She is clearly a determined woman, however, who over the years has become adept at dealing with the calculated unpleasantness of certain sections of the media. "A journalist asked me; Do you not think this is a waste of money?" she recalled. "And I had to agree. Because I know in Derry we need another hospital on the City side, but we don't have it. I can think of many things that they could do with the millions that they are paying. And I said, 'Do you realise that one paragraph would be enough to send us home right now?'"

Time and time again, the lawyers for the families have given witnesses the opportunity make some gesture of recognition of the families' loss. With the exception of Soldier 027, all so far have failed. Under the questioning of Michael Mansfield, it became wretchedly obvious that Ford would, even now, struggle to name a single one of his soldiers' victims on Bloody Sunday - or indeed any other day. I wondered if he could actually remember how many were killed, such was his nonchalance.

At the close of his stint in the witness box Eilís McDermott explained to Brigadier Patrick McClelland that she represented the family of Patrick Doherty, some of whom were sitting across the chamber in the relatives gallery. Could he, she inquired, offer them any explanation at all about how their loved one, an entirely innocent man, had come to be killed by men supposedly under his command. "No" replied McClelland, with a mixture of truculence and boredom, staring straight ahead of him and already preparing to leave.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1