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'Bloody Sunday', 30 January 1972 - Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal



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Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal

The Irish Government's Assessment of the New Material
Presented to the British Government in June 1997


Contents

Preface

Introduction

Summary and Significance of the New Material

The Widgery Report and the New Material Conclusions



Preface

30 January, 1997 marked the 25th anniversary of the killing of thirteen people and the wounding of a further fourteen (one of whom was to die shortly afterwards) in Derry in 1972 by the British Army. The passage of those years has not lessened the meaning of what happened on that day, summed up by the term synonymous with it, "Bloody Sunday", the trauma of which sent shock waves of anger, grief and indignation that were felt throughout the island of Ireland, the wider Irish community abroad and the international community.

The passage of twenty five years has not dimmed the memories of that day for those who were present and particularly for those who lost loved ones. Memories are vividly recalled with deeply felt emotion about lost fathers, sons and brothers. The Government is acutely aware that time has not diminished this sense of pain and loss. It is also aware that their grief has been deepened by their belief, widely shared, that the events of Bloody Sunday have yet to be set out in a truthful and credible official account. The Bloody Sunday relatives believe that the Report of Lord Widgery was a deliberately incomplete and wilfully misleading official version of events designed for the sole purpose of exculpating the actions of the British Army.

The Government has long shared the widespread view that the Widgery Report was unsatisfactory and that it did not represent the truth of what happened on that day. Indeed, the very disregard with which the Widgery Report was viewed by nationalists, particularly those in Derry, has meant that they have largely ignored it, so far removed was its version of events from the reality of what they believed happened in Derry on 30 January 1972. On the other hand, for the British authorities, the Widgery Report remains the official version of events. On the basis of the Widgery Report, compensation was granted to the next of kin in 1974 and in 1992 the British confirmed the innocence of those killed by reference to the Report's finding that none were found guilty.

The emergence of new material and the re-evaluation of the available evidence which coincided with the twenty fifth anniversary of Bloody Sunday has refocused attention on the events of that day and on the Widgery Report. It has reawakened and deepened the long standing doubts about the Widgery Report and suggested a dramatically different version of events to that offered in the official account. The Government believed that this new material, the very serious issues raised by the emerging picture of what actually happened on Bloody Sunday and the long standing concerns of the Bloody Sunday relatives, warranted, in the first instance, a clear and thorough assessment of the material which has emerged recently, particularly in terms of its implications for the credibility of the Widgery Report. The Government has, accordingly, had such an assessment prepared by its officials.

The Government has been very conscious of the power of the events of Bloody Sunday and the Widgery Report to evoke deep emotions so evidently reflected in the commemorations twenty five years later. It has been very aware of and, it hopes, sensitive to the wishes and feelings of the Bloody Sunday relatives, as it has regarding all the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. The Government believes that the process of healing, reconciliation and ultimately of peace is advanced by a willingness on all sides and on behalf of all victims to acknowledge the over-riding values of truth and justice. These considerations have formed the basis of the Government's approach in seeking to assess the significance of the new material regarding Bloody Sunday and particularly its significance for the Report of the Widgery Tribunal of Inquiry.




Introduction

1. The new material which formed the basis of the Government's assessment can be summarised as follows:

  • Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, The Truth, edited by Don Mullan (1997): this publishes a selection of civilian eyewitness statements drawn from over 500 accounts given to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the National Council for Civil Liberties (hereafter NICRA/NCCL) which were submitted to the Widgery Tribunal but not substantively considered by it. In addition to these, the book contains accounts of recently released archival material, an assessment of the significance of intercepted Army and RUC radio messages, and preliminary medical and ballistic reassessments. The material combines to form a profoundly different and vividly portrayed version of events which is distinctly at odds with that presented by the Widgery Report. It strongly indicates that the Widgery Inquiry was partisan and selective in the evidence which it chose to consider and accept. Significantly, Don Mullan concludes on the basis of a variety of sources that shots were fired by the British Army from the vicinity of Derry Walls, that these shots hit a number of civilians and that the evidence of three of the fatalities indicates that they died as a result of these shots. Lord Widgery never considered such a possibility despite evidence to that effect having been available to him.
  • The Bloody Sunday Tribunal of Inquiry, a resounding defeat for truth, justice and the rule of law by Professor Dermot Walsh (1997): this includes an analysis of recently released statements made by soldiers initially to the Military Police and later to the Treasury Solicitors on and after 30 January 1972 which were not made available at the time to Counsel for the next of kin. The study has found that these statements contained substantial and material inconsistencies, discrepancies and alterations. While the disparities between the statements by and between the soldiers were plainly evident to the staff of the Tribunal, they were not made available to Counsel for the next of kin despite their obvious material relevance both individually and collectively. Prof. Walsh argues that this failure, an effective concealment of relevant material by the Tribunal, undermined the cross examination process and rendered the Widgery Report fatally flawed. Prof. Walsh also considers the significance of other archival material, recently released by the British Public Record Office, relating to the operation of the Tribunal and concludes that its operation was inherently biased against the victims and in favour of the British Army. He also provides an analysis of the other features of the Inquiry, most notably the fact that it derogated from the recommendations of the Salmon Report on fair legal representation, which helped undermine its fairness and balance toward the victims and their relatives.
  • Channel Four News has broadcast a number of interviews with individuals whom Channel Four believe to have been soldiers on duty in Derry on Bloody Sunday. These interviews support allegations that shots were fired from the vicinity of Derry Walls by the British Army, make claims that military command and control was absent for a period in which "shameful and disgraceful acts" were being perpetrated, and contain assertions that officials working for Lord Widgery changed the version of events presented by at least one soldier.
  • A Dublin newspaper, the Sunday Business Post, published extracts from a very disturbing account, reputedly by a member of 1 Para, of the actions of members of his unit in Rossville Street and Glenfada Park which included the deliberate killing, variously, of unarmed and fleeing civilians, some of whom had already been wounded by British Army fire. The account also claims that the staff of the Widgery Tribunal fabricated aspects of this soldier's statement in an apparent attempt to justify the killings. The Government was given a copy of this document which included, inter alia, the names of individual soldiers not revealed in the published version.
  • The Government undertook an extensive search of its files relating to Bloody Sunday. Among those files were 101 statements by eyewitnesses which were collected by the Government in 1972. Many of those who gave statements to the Government also gave statements to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) which subsequently formed the basis of Don Mullan's Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Extracts from these unpublished eyewitness accounts have been used in this assessment.

2. In describing the material which has emerged as 'new' care must be exercised. Some of the material is genuinely new, such as the claims made on Channel Four that members of the security forces now verify that shots were fired from the vicinity of Derry Walls by the British Army. Some, such as the civilian eyewitness statements contained in Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, is not new in that it was available to the Tribunal at the time. However, the publication now of the civilian eyewitness accounts reveals afresh their compelling nature as a body of evidence dramatically at odds with the findings of the Widgery Report. Their restatement in conjunction with other material adds forcefully to the long-held doubts about the Report as an accurate and complete version of events. Some of the material, such as the statements made initially by the soldiers to the Military Police and subsequently to the Treasury Solicitors, was available to the official side of the Tribunal but would have been new to Counsel for the next of kin. It emerges now as new to the public. Indeed, this body of material derives its force from the very fact that it and the inconsistencies and alterations on the part of the implicated soldiers it reveals, were available to Counsel for the Tribunal but effectively concealed from Counsel for the next of kin despite their obvious relevance, particularly in the context of an adversarially based Inquiry. In other words, it is the fact of the material being "old" which gives it its devastating force as a critique of the Widgery Report.

3. New ballistics and medical evidence from independent expert sources has also emerged which supports Don Mullan's thesis that three of the victims of Bloody Sunday died as a result of British Army fire from the vicinity of Derry Walls.

4. In the course of this analysis, a number of comments and inferences are made solely on the basis of the content of the Widgery Report itself. They are based on the contradictions and failures in logic and purpose which are found throughout the Report. These are a legitimate source of criticism and so obvious that comment could not reasonably have been avoided. The Widgery Report has in the past been subject to detailed critiques, most notably those by Prof. Samuel Dash and Bryan McMahon, both of which have been used where appropriate in the course of this assessment.

5. Having considered the new material under three headings - Summary, New Material? and Significance - the assessment turns to the Widgery Report itself and subjects it to a detailed deconstruction in the light of the new material. The assessment closes with a conclusion based on this assessment and a recommendation on how the issue of Bloody Sunday should be taken forward.

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