Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal - Widgery Report and New Material
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111. The failure to provide an explanation to support his claim that allowing the march against internment to proceed would make control of future marches impossible was particularly cavalier not to say otiose in the circumstances of the widespread civil unrest being experienced in Northern Ireland at the time. From the nationalist perspective, the rule of law (i.e. a body of rules containing individual rights as well as executive powers) was brought into fundamental disrepute by the introduction of internment, an instrument of arbitrary State power which effectively dispensed with the law and which was directed overwhelmingly against nationalists. Had the repute of law been Lord Widgery's main concern, he might have alluded just once to the issue of internment which prompted the march on Bloody Sunday. His facile reasoning was all the more egregious since it was offered as justification for the ultimately lethal approach adopted by the authorities toward the march. If, as suggested by other contemporary sources, there was political involvement in the decision making process prior to the events of the day which directly affected the approach of the security forces, then Lord Widgery's proffered explanation may have concealed more than it revealed. If a significant degree of prior political direction can be fully established, then Lord Widgery failed to account for the actions and decisions of directly relevant and arguably responsible agencies.
Para 17. The final decision, which was taken by higher authority after General Ford and the Chief Constable had been consulted, was to allow the march to begin but to contain it within the general area of the Bogside and Creggan Estate....On 25 January General Ford put the Commander 8 Infantry Brigade in charge of the operation and ordered him to prepare a detailed plan. The plan is 8 Infantry Brigade Operation Order No 2/72 dated 27 January.
112. This paragraph contains one of the chief mysteries of Bloody Sunday; who took the "final decision"? Speaking for the British Government at Westmister on 1 February, 1972, Lord Balniel confirmed that "the arrest operation was discussed by the Joint Security Council after decisions had been taken by Ministers here." While denying that the Widgery Report suggested political pressure on the British Army, the Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on the publication of the Report, said that in relation to the "higher authority" referred to by Lord Widgery, "the plan was prepared by the Brigade Commander and went to the Commander Land Forces. It also went to the General Officer Commanding, who discussed it with the Chief Constable; and it was known to Ministers. That is what I meant by saying that it was known to higher authority." Lord Balniel before the Inquiry and the Prime Minister after the publication of the Report identified, therefore, Lord Widgery's "higher authority" as Ministers. On this basis, there was clearly political sanction for the operation. Despite the acknowledged involvement by the Stormont and British Governments of the arrest operation in advance of 30 January, Lord Widgery failed to investigate the facts surrounding the political influence on the formulation of the British Army's plan of action or the political basis on which that plan was sanctioned.
Para 20. Under the heading of "Hooliganism" the Operation Order provided:
This links up with the specific task allotted to 1 Para which was in the following terms:
"1. Maintain a Brigade Arrest Force to conduct a scoop-up operation of as many hooligans and rioters as possible.
113. Lord Widgery omitted the directions for dealing with "Hooliganism" at (b) and (c). According to the Sunday Times Insight Team report published in April 1972 and that of Prof. Dash, part (c) of the Operation Order set out the geographical confines of the operation as follows; "the scoop up operation is likely to be launched on two axes, one directed towards hooligan activity in the area of William St./Little Diamond, and one towards the area of William St./Little James St." In other words, the order envisaged activity along William Street and not up Rossville Street. Lord Widgery's failure to spell this out was a telling one for it would have underlined the extent to which the movement of 1 Para had violated the Operation Order. If they were not following this plan, what plan, it can be legitimately asked, had they in mind?
Para 21. The Operation Order, which was classified "Secret", thus clearly allotted to 1 Para the task of an arrest operation against hooligans. Under cross-examination, however, the senior Army officers, and particularly General Ford, were severely attacked on the grounds that they did not genuinely intend to use 1 Para in this way. It was suggested that 1 Para had been specially brought to Londonderry because they were known to be the roughest and toughest unit in Northern Ireland and it was intended to use them in one of two ways: either to flush out any IRA gunmen in the Bogside and destroy them by superior training and fire power; or to send a punitive force into the Bogside to give the residents a rough handling and discourage them from making or supporting further attacks on the troops.
Para 22. There is not a shred of evidence to support these suggestions and they have been denied by all the officers concerned. I am satisfied that the Brigade Operation Order accurately expressed the Brigade Commander's intention for the employment of 1 Para and that suggestions to the contrary are unfounded. 1 Para was chosen for the arrest role because it was the only experienced uncommitted battalion in Northern Ireland.
114. The suspicions that either of these scenarios in one form or another more accurately reflected the intention of those who deployed 1 Para have never been quite dispelled and were certainly not put to rest by the Widgery Report at the time. In fact, the emergence of the new material has reawakened in very forceful terms suspicions about what was the actual intent of the authorities and the British Army. The new material repeatedly begs the questions which have yet to be answered. Why were demonstrably unarmed and innocent civilians shot dead? Why was there fire from the Walls? Why did the soldiers act with such brutality generally, even to uniformed members of the Order of Malta trying to render assistance? Why was 1 Para used for an arrest operation in an area liable to IRA attack when by Lord Widgery's own description the Paras "show no particular concern for the safety of others in the vicinity of the target"? The suggestions put forward and dismissed by Lord Widgery appear to supply a more credible answer to these questions than the findings he presented in his Report.
115. Lord Widgery did not attempt to present a case for his assertion that there was "not a shred of evidence to support these suggestions" and was content to simply make this assertion. The argument that 1 Para was the only experienced uncommitted battalion in Northern Ireland for the arrest operation was hardly a convincing one. His judgement that the Operation Order accurately expressed the intention of the officer ostensibly in command, Brigadier McLellan, vis-a-vis the role of 1 Para did not properly address the concern that McLellan may not have been party to all of the decisions made regarding 1 Para, e.g, decisions involving General Ford, Lt. Col Wilford and very possibly Brigadier Kitson. The actions of members of 1 Para itself, the degree of force employed (as measured in terms of civilians dead and wounded), the absence of any injury to security force personnel, and the description of what happened as presented by highly credible eyewitnesses contrast so starkly with Lord Widgery's assertion that 1 Para was deployed as an arrest force that it now simply lacks credibility.
116. The NICRA/NCCL eyewitness statements raise serious questions about the commitment of the soldiers to a scoop up and arrest operation. Based on their accounts, there appears to have been a willingness to employ lethal force on unarmed civilians - many of whom were fleeing and some of whom were attempting to assist those already hit by fire. Overwhelmingly, these accounts agree that the groups amongst whom the victims were shot were not hostile and that the arrival of 1 Para provoked a sense of panic and a desire to flee the area or seek shelter from the live ammunition being fired at them. Given the degree of force used by the soldiers, their area of activity (i.e. outside that defined by the Operation Order) and the length of time in which 1 Para was deployed, it appeared that the Operation Order was simply being ignored by the soldiers on the ground. Possible explanations suggest themselves: members of 1 Para directly and wilfully ignored their orders to mount an arrest operation and simply ran amok; they believed their behaviour was in some way sanctioned or deemed acceptable by the authorities; or their actions formed part of a planned military operation which has yet to be revealed. It may be, in fact, that all of these factors were at play in determining the behaviour of the soldiers and their officers.
117. More specifically, the alleged statements of Para AA include a claim that the anti-tank unit of 1 Para were directed by a Para Lieutenant (name supplied) the day before Bloody Sunday to get "some kills". It alleges that the Para Lieutenant said "lets teach those buggers a lesson - we want some kills tomorrow". The Para AA statement is treated more fully later but it is relevant to note at this stage that it does not contain any reference to an arrest operation but tends, in its description of the actions of members of 1 Para, to support the charges laid against General Ford and others which Lord Widgery had seen fit to dismiss.
118. The description in the Para AA document of the highly aggressive nature and attitude of members of 1 Para, its function as a trouble shooting unit, its briefing to "get some kills", further references about the unit being used elsewhere in Northern Ireland to draw IRA fire (i.e. "flush out and destroy") all add to the mystery of why 1 Para was chosen for what was ostensibly an arrest operation in a situation where violence might well occur in the midst of many civilians with the attendant risk to innocent lives.
Para 23. Another unjustified criticism of General Ford was persisted in throughout the Tribunal hearing. It was said that when heavy firing began and it became apparent that the operation had taken an unexpected course, the General made no attempt to discover the cause of the shooting but instead washed his hands of the affair and walked away. This criticism is based on a failure to understand the structure of command in the Army. The officer commanding the operation was the Commander 8 Brigade, who was in his Operations Room and was the only senior officer who had any general picture of what was going on. General Ford was present on the streets of Londonderry as an observer only. Although he had wireless equipment in his vehicle he was not accompanied by a wireless operator when on foot. When the serious shooting began the General was on foot in the neighbourhood of Chamberlain Street and had no means of knowing what was going on. Nothing would have been more likely to create chaos than for him to assume command or even to interfere with radio traffic by asking for information. Instead he did the only possible thing by going at once to an observation post from which he could observe the scene for himself.
119. Whatever about the value of Lord Widgery's self-imposed ordinance not to consider the question of who made all decisions relevant to the British Army's activities in the lead up to Bloody Sunday, the emergence of new material revives long standing questions about who contributed to the decision making process leading up to the operation in Derry and what considerations and calculations informed that decision. It deepens the concern about the claims of the involvement - in advance of the date of 25 January cited by Lord Widgery on which General Ford instructed Brigadier McLellan to prepare Operation Order 2/72 - of Brigadier Kitson, the role of the Northern Ireland Joint Security Council and, prior to that, of the British Government's Cabinet Committee on Northern Ireland. In this context, Lord Widgery's characterisation of General Ford's presence as purely an observer is unconvincing (as is the extraordinary claim that a request by Ford over the radio for information would of itself have created chaos).
120. The emergence from the archives of a record of a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice which appears to have occurred on 31 January indicates remarkable speed and, combined with the specificity of the Prime Minister's advice to Lord Widgery, also tends to suggest a degree of political involvement throughout the decision making process. Since Lord Widgery failed to address this question, it has been left open to many suspicions and speculations. Undoubtedly, some clarification of precisely what political involvement there may or may not have been in the formation of the operational plans prior to Bloody Sunday may lie in the archives of the British Government and, one can assume, the memory of those who might have been involved.
121. Combined with the speculation about the nature of political involvement at the highest levels, the mere fact of General Ford's presence on the ground in Derry has long fuelled speculation that more than an arrest operation was afoot. These were encouraged at the time by the fact that General Ford assigned 1 Para to the arrest operation and actively encouraged 1 Para in their task on the ground when their deployment began (in testimony, General Ford said that as he was standing at barricade 14 when the arrest operation began, he had said "Go on, 1 Para, go and get them, and good luck").
122. Another claim has recently come to the Government's attention regarding General Ford's role. This asserts that a British Army officer was debriefed by a more senior officer on the Widgery Report and implies that the latter was deeply unhappy with the treatment of Brigadier McLellan in it. In the course of this debriefing, it was alleged that General Ford played a very active role, contrary to Lord Widgery's assertion, in determining the actions of British Army units and issued instructions without the knowledge or consent of Brigadier McLellan. It is claimed that General Ford directed British Army fire from the vicinity of Derry Walls. Broadly speaking, this claim alleges that General Ford was the true commander of the key British Army units and actions on the ground which resulted in Bloody Sunday. As with any claims about the chain of command and responsibility, this particular claim could be checked against official records.
The March as it Happened
Para 24. The marchers assembled on the Creggan Estate on a fine sunny afternoon and in carnival mood....When in due course they appeared at the west end of William Street it was obvious that their direct route to the Guildhall Square lay along William Street itself and that the march would come face to face with the Army at barrier 14 in that street. At this stage it became noticeable that a large number of youths, of what was described throughout the Inquiry as the hooligan type, had placed themselves at the head of the march; indeed some of them were in front of the lorry itself....nothing of real consequence occurred until the marchers reached the barriers in Little James Street and William Street. When the leaders of the march reached the junction of William Street and Rossville Street the lorry turned to its right to go along Rossville Street and the stewards made strenuous efforts to persuade the marchers to follow the lorry. It is quite evident now that the leaders of the march had decided before setting off from the Creggan Estate that they would take this course and thus avoid a head-on confrontation with the Army at the William Street barrier.
123. Lord Widgery's identification of a large number of youths as hooligans at this point implicitly recalled his earlier description of rioters as hooligans acting in concert with IRA gunmen. Without an explicit statement that this was not the case, there is left the presumption that their role as "hooligans" would again be similar - i.e. likely to provide cover for attacks on the security forces by IRA gunmen - and that consequently one could presume that the IRA were in the vicinity, if not already in their midst. Lord Widgery did not attempt to establish that either of these presumptions were true on the day in question or to address the question as to whether the security forces might have had prior information on this. Rather, the fact that the march began in carnival mood strongly suggests that those participating in it did not anticipate attacks of the type described earlier by Lord Widgery; had gunmen been operating in the area ready to take advantage of rioting, this would have been very clear to the marchers and the atmosphere could not have been as relaxed as indeed it was.
124. Furthermore, Lord Widgery asserts as "quite evident now" that the march organisers had veered up Rossville Street to avoid confrontation at barrier 14 "before setting off from the Creggan" as if it could not have been known at the time. This suggests that the decision by the march organisers to avoid confrontation was not available to the security forces at the time. Yet Chief Superintendent Lagan had informed the military authorities of this intention and had confirmed it on the morning of the march; Lagan gave his account of this in testimony to the Tribunal. Despite this, Lord Widgery made no reference to these assurances and made no effort to address in his Report the intentions and plans of the march organisers to avoid confrontation and ensure that the march passed off peacefully. Nor did he refer to the impact on the population of the Bogside of the violent behaviour of the Paras toward anti-internment demonstrators on the beach outside Magilligan Prison a week beforehand and which had alerted the march organisers to the danger of disturbances when the Paras were deployed. All of these would appear to be crucial factors in assessing the events of the day and the "reasonableness" under law of the actions of the security forces.
Para 25. The films show at least one middle-aged man making some attempt to move the barrier aside. Had other members of the crowd followed his example, the results might have been disastrous..... After a time the movement of the crowd at the rear reduced the pressure on those at the front in William Street and the crowd in front of the barrier began to thin out somewhat. The hooligans at once took advantage of the opportunity to start stone-throwing on a very violent scale. Not only stones, but objects such as fire grates and metal rods used as lances were thrown violently at the troops in a most dangerous way....Some witnesses have sought to play down this part of the incident and to suggest that it was nothing more than a little light stoning of the kind which occurs on most afternoons in this district and is accepted as customary. All I can say is that if this in any way represents normality the degree of violence to which the troops are normally subjected is very much greater than I suspect most people in Britain have appreciated.....At about 15.55 hours the troops appeared to be reaching a position in which they might disperse the rioters and relieve the pressure upon themselves....It was at this point that the decision to go ahead with the arrest operation, for which 1 Para was earmarked, was made.
125. Again, Lord Widgery failed even to refer to the presence or likely presence of IRA gunmen at this barricade much less invoke evidence to prove that the paramilitary tactics so carefully described in his introduction represented a genuine threat to the British soldiers on the day. Moreover, as McMahon so pointedly makes clear,
126. Paragraph 25 is a clear example of Lord Widgery's tendency, particularly on critical questions, to avoid making relevant judgements and drawing appropriate conclusions. This was despite the fact that Chief Superintendent Lagan fully expected that bottles and stones would be thrown and that it was almost an everyday event, a view communicated at the time to the military authorities and attested to in the course of the Inquiry. The evidence of the NICRA/NCCL statements was that the incident at this barricade was a modest disturbance representing a relatively low key threat to the security forces by the standards of the time. This paragraph is also significant in that it clearly states that by1555 hrs, before 1 Para began its "arrest operation", the crisis, such as it was, had passed and the soldiers would shortly be in position to disperse remaining rioters.
The Launching of the Arrest Operation
Para 26. Since the tactics of the arrest operation were to be determined by the location and strength of the rioters at the time when it was launched, the Brigade Order left them to be decided by Lieutenant Colonel Wilford, Commanding Officer of 1 Para. He had three Companies available for the arrest operation: A Company, C Company and Support Company, the latter being reinforced by a Composite Platoon from Administrative Company. (A fourth Company had been detached and put under command of 22 Light Air Defence Regiment for duties elsewhere in Londonderry.) In the event these three Companies moved forward at the same time. A Company operated in the region of the Little Diamond and played no significant part in the events with which the Inquiry was concerned. C Company went forward on foot through barrier 14 and along Chamberlain Street, while Support Company drove in vehicles through barrier 12 into Rossville Street to encircle rioters on the waste ground or pursued by C Company along Chamberlain Street. The only Company of 1 Para to open fire that afternoon-other than with riot guns-was Support Company.
127. In light of the new material's strong suggestion that there was firing from the vicinity of Derry Walls, the assertion that only 1 Para opened fire that afternoon is now open to question. It either means that soldiers other than 1 Para opened fire or that the fourth company of 1 Para on duty elsewhere in Derry was on the Walls and opened fire. Either way, Lord Widgery failed to account for the actions of the soldiers around the Walls who, it now seems clear, opened fire and possibly hit and killed civilians. Since this fundamental assertion, so critical to cause, effect and culpability, is now open to clear contradiction, then the Widgery Report by this measure alone is fatally flawed as an account of what actually happened.
128. This paragraph also proffers some very intriguing questions. Where in Derry was this fourth company of Paras located? How could it have been spared since, according to Lord Widgery, 1 Para was the only uncommitted experienced unit available for the arrest operation? What were its duties? Did this company contain snipers? Where was the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment and what duties had it assigned to this fourth company? What duties were assigned to the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment? What roles and duties were assigned to the other British Army units which have been identified as probably operating in and around Derry on that day? Why was Derry under what appeared to be virtual military siege as attested to by civilians trying to reach it? What role was assigned to each of these units in the broader plan of coordination and what bearing did this have on the events of the day? By concentrating primarily on the arrest operation, Lord Widgery failed to address critical questions about the British Army's intentions - questions the significance of which have become all the more apparent in the light of recent revelations.
129. Furthermore, Lord Widgery writes that "in the event" the three companies moved forward together. Was this coincidence? Or was it part of a coordinated movement? The movement of ten vehicles and an organised complement of soldiers into the Bogside could not have been organised spontaneously. If as logic dictates it was a coordinated movement, who coordinated it and why? What was its overall purpose in simultaneously moving along two axes not sanctioned in the Operation Order? What, in other words, had Lt. Col. Wilford in mind? Lord Widgery failed to explain this apparent manoeuvre and its purpose and failed to come to a judgement as to what it might reveal about the British Army's intentions. Whatever might be known about what happened on the day, the why remains to all intents and purposes a mystery.
Para 27. Before the wisdom of the order launching the arrest operation is considered it is necessary to decide who gave it. According to the Commander 8 Brigade and his Brigade Major (Lieutenant Colonel Steele) the operation was authorised by the Brigadier personally, as indeed was envisaged in the Brigade Order. The order for 1 Para to go in and make arrests was passed by the Brigade Major to the Commanding Officer 1 Para on a secure wireless link, ie one which was not open to eavesdropping. This link was used because the arrest operation depended on surprise for its success and it was known that normal military wireless traffic was not secure. The Commanding Officer 1 Para confirmed that he received the order and all three officers agreed that the order was in terms which left the Commanding Officer free to employ all three Companies.
Para 28. During the Inquiry however it was contended that the Brigadier did not authorise the arrest operation and that it was carried out by Lieutenant Colonel Wilford in defiance of orders or without orders and on his own initiative. The suspicion that Lieutenant Colonel Wilford acted without authority derives from the absence of any relevant order in the verbatim record of wireless traffic on the ordinary Brigade net. This omission was due to the use of the secure wireless link for this one vital order, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
130. There remain grounds for serious doubt about Brigadier McLellan's role in ordering the launch of the arrest operation (logs of the secure transmissions would clarify this point) and whether in fact he had authorised the use of all three companies as asserted here by Lord Widgery. Since there was, in fact, no written record in the brigade log of such an order, Lord Widgery chose to dismiss the written official record in favour of the oral testimony offered post hoc by participants, as McMahon points out. This points to a serious flaw in the Widgery Report on the vital point of who was in command of the British Army units involved in Bloody Sunday.
131. Clearly the secure link provided the vital conduit for the communication of orders and suggested that the Army was preparing to encounter a formidable enemy capable of monitoring its open communications and undertaking counter measures. To whom was this link available at the time? What messages were conveyed on it? Furthermore, why were two distinct modes of communication used, one secure and the other open? The messages on the secure link would appear to be far more germane to understanding the intentions and actions of the key British Army units than the messages recorded on the open lines. The Widgery Report was seriously flawed in not attempting to locate or examine, even in camera, the logs recording messages given and received on the secure link. Furthermore, tracing which officers and units were in communication on this secure link would have allowed for greater clarity as to which officers and units were responsible for particular actions undertaken, such as the when, where and why of the use of lethal force.
Para 29. Other circumstances which suggest that 1 Para moved without orders are less easily explained. The Brigade Log, which is maintained in the Brigade Operations Room and is a minute by minute record of events and messages, regardless of the method of communication used, contains the following entries:
"Serial 147,1555 hours from 1 Para. Would like to deploy sub-unit through barricade 14 to pick up yobbos in William Street/Little James Street."Serial 159 is identified by the Brigade Major as recording the Brigadier's instruction for 1 Para to move; but its terms are inconsistent with the employment of three Companies. (a sub-unit is a Company.) Further, the Brigade Operation Order said that it was expected that the arrest operation would be conducted on foot and that the two axes of advance were likely to be towards the areas of William Street/Little Diamond and William Street/Little James Street, ie the Order did not contemplate the use of Rossville Street as an axis of advance; and whatever the prohibition of a "running battle down Rossville Street" was intended to imply it at least suggests that a penetration in depth at this point was not intended. It has been contended that the Brigade log shows prima facie that the only action which 1 Para was authorised to carry out was the limited one for which permission had been sought in the message recorded in Serial 147. This view is supported by the evidence of Chief Superintendent Lagan, who was in the Brigadier's office at the relevant time and who formed the impression that 1 Para had acted without authority from the Brigadier.
132. Lord Widgery acknowledged that the terms of these orders were inconsistent with employing three companies and noted the suggestion that Rossville Street, on the basis of this evidence, was not contemplated as an axis of advance. However, the new material, which has resurrected suggestions that something other than an arrest operation was afoot, also adds considerably to the significance of Brigadier McLellan's order not to conduct a running battle up Rossville Street. From this perspective, Brigadier McLellan's injunction would have had, at a stroke, frustrated a flush out and destroy operation. Had Lord Widgery not dismissed the allegations that the actions of the Paras were more consistent with a flush out and destroy operation than an arrest one, he would have had to deal more adequately with Brigadier McLellan's orders as recorded in the brigade log and particularly his injunction about Rossville Street. The new material, and the terms in which it describes the actions of the Paras, resurrects the key question as to what is the most reasonable interpretation of the written military records and the actions of the soldiers on the ground.
Para 30. It is understandable that these circumstances have given rise to suspicion that the CO 1 Para exceeded his orders, but I do not accept this conclusion in the face of the sworn evidence of the three officers concerned. I think that the most likely explanation is that when the Brigade Major gave instructions to the log keeper to make the entry which appears as Serial 159 the latter mistakenly thought that the order was a response to the request in Serial 147 and he entered it accordingly.
133. Lord Widgery's decision to accept the sworn testimony of the three officers concerned (though not all of the relevant officers, such as the note-keeper) conveniently but not convincingly removed the difficulties presented by the written records. As McMahon points out, "Lord Widgery not only accepted oral evidence in preference to written evidence, but also preferred the evidence of implicated persons to that of independent witnesses. He also rejected what is traditionally recognised as a reliable source of evidence; official records."
Should the Arrest Operation have been Launched at all ?
Para 31. By 1600 hours the pressure on barrier 14 had relaxed. There were still 100 to 200 hooligans in the William Street area but most of the non-violent marchers had either turned for home or were making their way down Rossville Street to attend a meeting at Free Derry Corner where about 500 were already assembled. (Still of Army helicopter film EP 29/16.) On the waste ground between the Rossville Flats and William Street there was a mixed crowd of perhaps 200 which included some rioters together with marchers, local residents, newspapermen and sightseers who were moving aimlessly about or chatting in groups. (Mr Tucker's photographs EP 28/1 to 4.) This was the situation when Commander 8 Brigade ordered 1 Para to move forward and make arrests.
134. Given that there was army helicopter film, the question can legitimately be asked whether the events of Bloody Sunday were actually filmed in full and whether such a record is available. This paragraph further illustrates that the situation, despite the fact of continued stone throwing, had eased considerably and that the crowd between Rossville Flats and William Street, into which 1 Para drove its assault, was for the most part mixed, aimless and relaxed.
Para 32. In the light of events the wisdom of carrying out the arrest operation is debatable. The Army had achieved its main purpose of containing the march and although some rioters were still active in William Street they could have been dispersed without difficulty. It may well be that if the Army had maintained its "low key" attitude the rest of the day would have passed off without further serious incident. On the other hand the Army had been subjected to severe stoning for upwards of half an hour; and the future threat to law and order posed by the hard core of hooligans in Londonderry made the arrest of some of them a legitimate security objective. The presence of 1 Para provided just the opportunity to carry this out.
Para 33. In view of the large numbers of people about in the area the arrest operation presented two particular risks: first, that in a large scale scoop-up of rioters a number of people who were not rioters would be caught in the net and perhaps roughly handled; secondly, that if the troops were fired upon and returned fire innocent civilians might well be injured.
135. These paragraphs clearly understated the dangers faced by the civilians in and around Rossville Street once 1 Para was mobilised. In the light of the Para AA document, its claims about the brutal esprit de corps prevailing in the Parachute Regiment, and the widely acknowledged acceptance - even by Lord Widgery - that the Paras were particularly aggressive in their approach, there could have been little doubt in the minds of the commanding officers of the likely risk to civilians present when 1 Para deployed. Apparently under the sights of British Army snipers viewing the situation from elevated positions near the Walls and an officer located overhead in a helicopter, a military unit known to be particularly aggressive and ruthless was deployed in a rapid advance simultaneously up Chamberlain Street and Rossville Street against a mixed, aimless and relaxed crowd dispersing from a relatively minor disturbance toward Free Derry corner. This advance, contrary to the orders of Brigadier McLellan, was into an area in which the Army reportedly believed these soldiers were liable to sniper attack by members of the IRA located in and around the Rossville Flats complex.
Para 34. Whether the Brigade Commander was guilty of an error of judgment in giving orders for the arrest operation to proceed is a question which others can judge as well or better than I can. It was a decision made in good faith by an experienced officer on the information available to him, but he underestimated the dangers involved.
136. Since Lord Widgery, contrary to the record, ascribed to Brigadier McLellan the responsibility of launching the arrest operation (without which, as Lord Widgery conceded, there may have been no deaths that day), Brigadier McLellan bore the weight of responsibility for the consequences of that action. Yet Lord Widgery, charged with the investigation into the most serious incident involving the British Army in its recent history, simply refused to make a judgement on whether or not Brigadier McLellan made a fatal error of judgement which resulted in 13 deaths that afternoon. This not only contrasts with the certitude with which he laid the blame for the events of that day on the march organisers, but avoids what must by any reasonable standard be seen as the reason for holding the Inquiry in the first place.
137. That is not to claim that Brigadier McLellan was actually the responsible agent in precipitating the operation which led to the civilian casualties since questions remain as to his control on the day and on the nature of the authorities' overall intentions. One might even make the argument that Brigadier McLellan, as demonstrated by the official record, gave an order not to conduct a running battle down Rossville Street which, if adhered to by 1 Para, would undoubtedly have greatly diminished - even to the point of elimination - the risk to civilians. In considering whether Brigadier McLellan gave an accurate account in testimony, Prof. Dash asked: "Even if General Ford had given the order, could Brigadier McLellan be expected to repudiate his commanding officer? Or, if 1 Para had acted without orders at all, would Brigadier McLellan's basic loyalty to the Army, or his concern for the reputation of the British government, permit him to expose such shocking conduct, especially after the tragic events of January 30?" Prof. Dash concludes that the crucial question of orders "was not resolved by the Tribunal Inquiry, and certainly not by Lord Widgery's Report."
The First High Velocity Rounds
Para 35. ...The Company Commander of the Support Company found a route over a wall by the side of the Presbyterian Church which he considered might be useful for this purpose, but which was obstructed by wire. Accordingly he sent a wire-cutting party to make this route usable if required. Whilst some soldiers from the Mortar Platoon were cutting the wire a single high velocity round was fired from somewhere near the Rossville Flats and struck a rainwater pipe on the side of the Presbyterian Church just above their heads. A large number of witnesses gave evidence about this incident, which clearly occurred, and which proves that at that stage there was at least one sniper, equipped with a high velocity weapon, established somewhere in the vicinity of the Rossville Flats and prepared to open fire on the soldiers.
138. Lord Widgery did not make clear here that the witnesses to this event were military. None of the NICRA/NCCL statements or the eyewitness statements given to the Government in 1972 attest to this event as described by Lord Widgery. In seeking to establish the threat of sniper fire from Rossville Flats as he does in this instance, Lord Widgery logically called into question the subsequent decision to send soldiers into the open areas in front of these flats.
Para 36. The Company Commander of Support Company had sent a number of men forward to cover the wire-cutting party. Some of these men established themselves on the two lower floors of a three storey derelict building on William Street....A hail of missiles was thrown at these soldiers. After a time Soldier A fired two rounds and Soldier B fired three rounds. There is no doubt that this shooting wounded Mr John Johnson and Mr Damien Donaghy. Evidence from civilians in the neighbourhood, including Mr Johnson himself, is to the effect that although stones were being thrown no firearms or bombs were being used against the soldiers in the derelict building. Having seen and heard Mr Johnson I have no doubt that he was telling the truth as he saw it. He was obviously an innocent passer-by going about his own business in Londonderry that afternoon and was almost certainly shot by accident. I have not thought it necessary to take a statement from Mr Donaghy, who was injured more seriously and was still in hospital when I finished hearing evidence. I am quite satisfied that had he given evidence it would have been in the same sense as that given by Mr Johnson.
139. It is interesting to note here that the wire-cutting party was being given cover by Support Company. In the light of the new material and evidence that firing occurred from elevated positions, the question arises as to what cover was established, and where it was situated, to protect Support Company when it later advanced up Rossville Street - all the more so since it had been claimed that a high velocity shot had come from Rossville Flats. Lord Widgery did not offer any insight into what cover was organised for the soldiers moving up Rossville Street. If such cover was not present, it would seem a dereliction of duty by the officers commanding. If it was, did it open fire as so many eyewitnesses attest and thereby contribute to the fatal events that followed? It is also interesting to note that while Lord Widgery recorded the views of eyewitnesses that only stones were thrown and while he was prepared to say that he believed Mr. Johnson was telling the truth as he saw it, Lord Widgery did not offer a similar judgement on the views of those other eyewitnesses about the type of projectiles being used, nor did he seek to hear the views of Damien Donaghy - despite his relevance as one of the wounded and despite the nature of the allegations being levelled at him by the soldiers. Had Lord Widgery done so, he would have had considerable difficulty in accepting the accounts offered by the implicated soldiers.
Para 37. ...The man reappeared carrying an object in his right hand and made the actions of striking a fuse match against the wall with his left hand. When he brought his two hands together soldier A assumed that he was about to light a nail bomb, took aim and fired at him.
Para 38. ...[soldier B] noticed one man come out from the waste ground across William Street carrying in his right hand a black cylindrical object which looked like a nail bomb. With his left hand he struck the wall with a match. Thinking that the man was about to light the nail bomb, and that there was no time to wait for orders from his Platoon Sergeant, soldier B took aim and fired.
140. These paragraphs concern the shootings of Damian Donaghy and John Johnson in William Street, both wounded at the time (Johnson subsequently died, reportedly as a result of his wounds). These were the first victims of Bloody Sunday. Lord Widgery cleared the victims of any suggestion that they were trying to light or were lighting a bomb. He relates the accounts of soldiers A and B as being "in similar terms" and supports their belief that they had been attacked by nail bombs but finds "it impossible to reach any conclusions as to whether explosive substances were thrown at these soldiers or not."
141. It is clear, however, that the original statements made by these soldiers to the Military Police, as detailed by Prof. Walsh, were significantly different to their subsequent description of events. In this original statement, Soldier A placed the target at a different spot and claimed that the target struck the nail bomb against the wall to ignite it with his right hand and was in the process of passing it into his left hand when he was shot and hit by Soldier A. Two men dragged the target away. Soldier B gave a very similar account, though B claimed that the target lit something with his left hand and was about to ignite the object in his right hand. Both also claimed that two nail bombs exploded near them prior to this. Yet no nail bombs were recovered from the scene. No civilian eyewitness identified nail bombs being used. No civilian eyewitness described the incident depicted by the soldiers. Soldier A corrected his placement of the target in a subsequent statement to the Treasury Solicitors and, significantly, also changed his statement to say that the target moved his left hand down the wall which had the effect of matching it to the account given by Soldier B.
142. It is clear that the soldiers' testimony to the Tribunal was open to the charge that it had been changed and was therefore unreliable. Since these changes were not revealed to Counsel for the next of kin, the cross-examination was denied the opportunity of addressing the discrepancies of place and movements. Since a reasonable number of the authors of the eyewitness statements were not called to testify, the possibility of refuting the soldiers' testimony as being tantamount to fiction was never properly explored.
Para 39. I find it impossible to reach any conclusion as to whether explosive substances were thrown at these soldiers or not. Mere negative evidence that nail bombs were not seen or heard is of relatively little importance in a situation in which there was already a great deal of noise. Baton rounds were being fired from the barrier in Little James Street nearby and there were other distractions for the various witnesses. Having seen Soldiers A and B vigorously cross-examined I accept that they thought, rightly or wrongly, that the missiles being thrown towards them included a nail bomb or bombs; and that they thought, rightly or wrongly, that one of the members of the crowd was engaged in suspicious action similar to that of striking a match and lighting a nail bomb. The soldiers fired in the belief that they were entitled to do so by their orders. Whether or not the circumstances were really such as to warrant firing there is no reason whatever to suppose that either Mr. Johnson or Mr. Donaghy was in fact trying to light or throw a bomb.
143. It seems extraordinary that Lord Widgery found it impossible to reach a conclusion as to whether nails bombs were thrown. Both soldiers, in identical terms, describe two nail bombs landing nearby before they opened fire. Either they were telling the truth or they were not. Since they were implicated witnesses, since the emergence of the archival material demonstrates that they made significant changes to their testimony and since eyewitnesses failed to corroborate their version, there are clear grounds for disbelieving their account. Furthermore, since both soldiers A and B claimed to have fired aimed shots, and since Lord Widgery accepted that the wounded were innocent, then logically he ought to have concluded that soldier A and soldier B aimed at and hit two innocent civilians.
144. As to Lord Widgery's claim that mere negative evidence (i.e. no eyewitnesses identified the use of nail bombs) is of relatively little importance, McMahon rightly poses the question "how else could the civilians prove there was no bomb except by declaring that they had not seen any?" He goes on, "in circumstances like those under scrutiny it would be almost inconceivable for civilians to prove the absence of nail bombs, etc., other than by negative evidence.....Negative truth is better than positive lies. It is very difficult to prove a negative statement (e.g. that there were no bombs) other than by negative evidence."
145. Had Lord Widgery concluded, as the weight of evidence suggests, that there were no nail bombs thrown, then the soldiers' belief that they were entitled to fire would have been seriously undermined. The soldiers' subjective belief - even if substantiated - that they were entitled to fire is not a sufficient justification for firing. Lord Widgery's failure to apply an objective standard of reasonableness to the actions of the soldiers, so evident here, set the pattern in his overall Report regarding the actions of British Army personnel.
146. Why Soldier A and B chose to shoot Donaghy and Johnson remains a mystery. Don Mullan states that many believe that these early shots, fired by Support Company of 1 Para and hitting Donaghy and Johnson, "were aimed at drawing the IRA units down into the Bogside.....the IRA reaction did not materialise....When the Paras moved into Rossville Street twenty minutes later, the fusillade of bombs and bullets they later claimed they encountered simply did not occur." The validity of this belief can only be fully assessed in the light of further information on or clarification of the British Army's prior intentions and on the role envisaged for 1 Para.
Support Company in Action
Para 40. An ammunition check on return to barracks showed that Support Company of 1 Para had, in the course of 30 January, expended 108 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition....Five rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition had been fired by Soldiers A and B as already described in paragraph 36 above and one had been ejected unfired by a soldier in clearing a stoppage in his rifle. The remaining 102 rounds were fired by soldiers of Support Company in a period of under 30 minutes between 1610 and 1640 hours. About 20 more rounds were fired by the Army in Londonderry that afternoon, but not by 1 Para and not in the area with which the Tribunal was primarily concerned.
147. Lord Widgery could not account for 19 shots by soldier H who claimed that he saw and fired on a gunman who appeared in a window 19 times in a row. Despite the accommodating calisthenics of the gunman, soldier H failed either to hit him, the window or even the building. While Lord Widgery at least baulked at accepting soldier H's fanciful explanation, he did not attempt to provide an alternative explanation in order to account for this ammunition. He failed, therefore, to account for some 39 bullets fired out of a total of 128 rounds (i.e 30%) which, by his reckoning, were fired by the Army that day in Derry. Nor did Lord Widgery seek to censure the soldier for attempting to mislead the Inquiry.
148. The official tally of ammunition fired has now been seriously undermined by the Para AA document. According to Para AA, members of 1 Para colluded to conceal how many bullets they had individually fired, had their own personal supply of ammunition and used dum-dum bullets. According to the Para AA statement,
"Several of the blokes had fired their own personal supply of dum-dums. Para BB for one fired 10 dum-dums into the crowd but as he still had his official quota he got away with saying he never fired a shot in the subsequent investigations. This happened with several people in my vehicle. Para CC fired 22 rounds but was stupid enough to boast about it within the sergeant's hearing before he could spread them out i.e. add a few to each of our tallys."
149. Para AA's allegation that dum-dum bullets were used is particularly startling. It bespeaks not only a culture of ill-discipline but the use of ammunition banned under the Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, it may explain the particular nature of the wounds suffered by Barney McGuigan, for example, which indicated that the bullet which struck him in the head had apparently shattered on impact. Lord Widgery's apparent assiduousness in accounting for all ammunition and his reckoning of the total amount did not match the civilian eyewitness accounts which invariably described a sustained fusillade of fire from many directions; it seems highly unlikely that this description matches the rate of 3-4 rounds a minute over a 30 minute period indicated by Lord Widgery. This discrepancy may well be explained in part by the Para AA statement.
150. The fact that 20 shots were also fired by the British Army outside the area of Lord Widgery's primary concern opens up an intriguing question. A close reading of Lord Widgery's syntax reveals that one could argue that it did not rule out that shots were fired from the vicinity of the Walls (i.e. outside the narrow confines defined by Lord Widgery) but hit people within that area. Lord Widgery did not investigate the likely trajectory of fatal shots. The new material reveals that such an examination at the time may well have revealed significant information regarding the source of some of the fatal shots as coming from the vicinity of Derry Walls.
Para 41. Support Company advanced through barrier 12 and down Rossville Street in a convoy of 10 vehicles. A photograph taken very shortly afterwards shows the Guildhall clock standing at 10 minutes past 4 (EP35/20). In the lead was the Mortar Platoon commanded by Lieutenant N....The rear was brought up by two further APCs carrying the Anti-Tank Platoon, which consisted of Lieutenant 119 in command and 17 other ranks.
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