CAIN: Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal - Summary of [Widgery's] conclusions

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Bloody Sunday and the Report of the Widgery Tribunal - Summary of [Widgery's] conclusions

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Summary of [Widgery's] conclusions

276. A notable feature of Lord Widgery's conclusions is that they could not be readily matched with the accounts and findings reached in the course of his Report. A dramatically different set of conclusions could have been set out based on the findings, such as they were. On the basis of his own Report, Lord Widgery could have found that a number of identifiable soldiers had shot dead one or more civilians without justification, that all of the individuals were shot dead contrary to the Yellow Card, that it was an error of judgement to have used 1 Para and that it was courting disaster to have launched the arrest operation.

277. Beyond this, the new material has completely and fatally undermined the Widgery Report, its findings and conclusions. As with the Report in general, Lord Widgery's conclusions emerge as inadequate, inaccurate, unfair, wholly unwarranted and wilfully misleading.

1. There would have been no deaths in Londonderry on 30 January if those who organised the illegal march had not thereby created a highly dangerous situation in which a clash between demonstrators and the security forces was almost inevitable.

278. Lord Widgery never sought to determine the intentions and plans of the march organisers and was not therefore entitled or positioned to render this unequivocal judgement. Had he done so, he would have discovered that efforts had been made to ensure that the march was free of the presence of IRA gunmen. No weapons were recovered from the dead, wounded or arrested. That the organisers of the march were successful in this is patently attested to by the failure of any significant or effective IRA presence to emerge in the face of the sustained and prolonged use of lethal force by the British Army against unarmed civilians. As the new material confirms, the responsibility for the deaths and injuries sustained on Bloody Sunday lay in the first instance and throughout the day with the British Army.

2. The decision to contain the march within the Bogside and Creggan had been opposed by the Chief Superintendent of Police in Londonderry but was fully justified by events and was successfully carried out.

279. It would have been more accurate to conclude that the actions of the marchers, in turning away from the disturbances at the junction of Rossville and William Streets, and complying with their prior commitments to avoid confrontation, completely validated the judgement of the Chief Superintendent.

3. If the Army had persisted in its "low key" attitude and had not launched a large scale operation to arrest hooligans the day might have passed off without serious incident.

280. The new material calls into question the relevance of the arrest operation as a sufficient explanation for the actions of the British Army. Rather, it points to an account of the actions of 1 Para which is directly at odds with the Operation Order for the day and for which a satisfactory explanation has yet to be offered.

4. The intention of the senior Army officers to use 1 Para as an arrest force and not for other offensive purposes was sincere.

281. The facts as they were known, particularly the reputation of the Paras and their characterisation in the Widgery Report itself, combined with the accounts of their actions and behaviour in the new material render this conclusion wholly unsound and misleading.

5. An arrest operation carried out in Battalion strength in circumstances in which the troops were likely to come under fire involved hazard to civilians in the area which Commander 8 Brigade may have under-estimated.

282. As has been noted in the foregoing, there is a serious question mark over Brigadier McLellan's role in and culpability for the actions of 1 Para. Until that is resolved, this conclusion is unfounded. Furthermore, it is clear that effective steps had been taken by the march organisers to ensure that there would be no significant IRA presence during the march, that these assurances were accepted by the RUC and were made known to and apparently accepted by Brigadier McLellan.

6. The order to launch the arrest operation was given by Commander 8 Brigade. The tactical details were properly left to CO 1 Para who did not exceed his orders. In view of the experience of the unit in operations of this kind it was not necessary for CO 1 Para to give orders in greater detail than he did.

283. There is no credible proof that Brigadier McLellan gave the order or that any order was in fact given to mount an arrest operation as envisaged in the Operation Order. There is ample evidence, not least the deaths and injuries inflicted on innocent civilians, that 1 Para exceeded the Operation Order. Some of what happened on the ground has been clarified by the emergence of the new material: why it happened remains an open question.

7. When the vehicles and soldiers of Support Company appeared in Rossville Street they came under fire. Arrests were made; but in a very short time the arrest operation took second place and the soldiers turned to engage their assailants. There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.

284. The new material demonstrates that this is a fiction; the army did not come under fire and there was no engagement with assailants. Why the soldiers opened fire remains unknown.

8. Soldiers who identified armed gunmen fired upon them in accordance with the standing orders in the Yellow Card. Each soldier was his own judge of whether he had identified a gunman. Their training made them aggressive and quick in decision and some showed more restraint in opening fire than others. At one end of the scale some soldiers showed a high degree of responsibility; at the other, notably in Glenfada Park, firing bordered on the reckless. These distinctions reflect differences in the character and temperament of the soldiers concerned.

285. Soldiers never identified gunmen, much less engaged them. Under the law, soldiers are not the interpreters of the rules under which they operate. If their training made them aggressive and quick in decision, they should not have been used in the arrest operation. Rather than the actions of the soldiers revealing a scale of responsibility, the eyewitness accounts demonstrate a uniformity of behaviour by the soldiers. This uniformity was reflected in their choice of target - all the fatalities being men (and all of the wounded, bar one, also being men) of serviceable military age and most of them moving at the time when they were shot dead. That some of their firing simply "bordered on the reckless" in Glenfada Park is a characterisation of behaviour distinctly, not to say bizarrely, at odds with the accounts provided in the new material. This conclusion is unsustainable, inaccurate and highly misleading.

9. The standing orders contained in the Yellow Card are satisfactory. Any further restrictions on opening fire would inhibit the soldier from taking proper steps for his own safety and that of his comrades and unduly hamper the engagement of gunmen.

286. Since the instructions contained in the Yellow Card were demonstrably ignored, this opinion was moot, to say the least. This conclusion tends to add to the sense that the Report was seeking to create an impression that the actions of the British Army were characterised by military restraint and probity.

10. None of the deceased or wounded is proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb. Some are wholly acquitted of complicity in such action; but there is a strong suspicion that some others had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon and that yet others had been closely supporting them.

287. The new material reveals overwhelmingly that there were no grounds for any suspicions that some of the victims or as Lord Widgery put it "some others" had been firing weapons or handling bombs and yet others were closely supporting IRA gunmen. Lord Widgery failed to demonstrate credibly that reasonable grounds existed for such a suspicion in even one case. The new material and its assessment here reveals that this conclusion was a grotesque and unjust assertion made contrary to the large body of credible evidence available at the time. Lord Widgery's conclusion was wholly unwarranted, unsustained by the evidence then or now and an unjustified calumny against the victims. The victims suffered the double injustice of being unlawfully killed and having their reputations sullied for the purpose of exculpating the actions of those responsible for their deaths.

11. There was no general breakdown in discipline. For the most part the soldiers acted as they did because they thought their orders required it. No order and no training can ensure that a soldier will always act wisely, as well as bravely and with initiative. The individual soldier ought not to have to bear the burden of deciding whether to open fire in confusion such as prevailed on 30 January. In the conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland, however, this is often inescapable.

288. The new material indicates that no faith could be attached to the testimony and claims of the soldiers. Furthermore, it suggests that there was either a break-down in discipline, or that soldiers were operating under a general licence of some description to operate as they did (bearing in mind that none were subject to any form of discipline), or that they were operating as part of a preconceived and coordinated plan which was not reflected in the Operation Order, or that some or all of these factors played a part in determining the soldiers' actions on Bloody Sunday. If, as Lord Widgery concluded, the soldiers followed their orders, the unresolved question of Bloody Sunday is what they thought those orders were.

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