Bloody Sunday Deemed Unjustifiable

The day that the Saville report was to be released was a day of overwhelming anxiety for the families of those 27 shot and 14 killed on the streets of Derry some 38 years ago by the British Army.  The families were seeking a resolution – seeking the truth to come from a report that was headed by Lord Saville in a report that many felt would once again cover the facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  The original Widgery Tribunal that investigated the tragic shootings claimed that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. The British Government maintained that position for 38 years.

On June 15, 2010, 4,520 days after the inquiry had begun, the findings were to be provided by British Prime Minister Cameron to the British House of Commons and broadcast live on television.  A large video screen was set up in Derry in front of the city’s Guildhall to accommodate a large crowd of viewers.  That day the families of the victims that have awaited justice for so many years and their supporters walked together through the streets of Derry to Guildhall to watch the report’s findings on the large screen.  They carried posters containing the pictures of those victims that did not survive those many years ago.  Their faces were distraught with the fear that once again those innocent victims would not meet justice and the facts would again be covered up by the British government.

Several Bloody Sunday family members now walking in Derry awaiting the report’s release had come to Washington, DC a few months earlier to meet Representative Chris Smith at his Capitol Hill office.  The meeting had been organized by Sean Pender our Freedom for all Ireland chairman.  A congressman from New Jersey, Chris is a great friend of the AOH and was the first chairman of a congressional committee to ever hold hearings on Northern Ireland.  These families came from Derry to request support from the Chris Smith and the U.S. Congress to pressure the British Government to be open with the release of the report, not delay it any longer and to not redact [conceal] vital information in the report when it was released.  Chris expressed his solidarity with the families and said that he would keep pressure on based upon the outcome of the report.

The inquiry took 12 years to produce – the longest public inquiry in British history at an estimated cost of £190.3 million (as of February 2010).  Investigators interviewed and received statements from around 2,500 people and 922 of these were called to give oral evidence including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 members of the media including photographers, 245 military, 35 paramilitary or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants including intelligence officers, 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and 7 priests.  The evidence included 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words. This included 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 10 videotapes. The finished report is 5000 pages long and weighs 45 pounds.

The large crowd in Derry watched the live video as the findings were made public.  Anticipating the worst, they watched with growing anxiety.  Then the words of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader wrung out on the large televised screen in the public gathering like victorious church bells signalling the enemies defeat.  “There is no doubt. There’s nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong,” Cameron told the House of Commons.  “It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth,” he continued, “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the [British] government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The families and the crowd gathered in Derry reacted with cheers and fists pumped into the air.  They were jubilant; their smiles, tears and happy faces showed that justice had finally come.  Their long struggle for the truth had now become their victory with the words emanating from the screen.

The report concluded that the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by British soldiers and no warning was given to civilians. None of the casualties was carrying a firearm and while there was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.  It also determined that the British soldiers had lost their self-control and that that some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from paratroopers, or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed that, “The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear. The British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”  Adams added “Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

In a letter to AOH President Boyle one family member stated, “I never understood what an impact this could have had – probably because I thought it would never happen, it did and I wish everyone who is reading this could have felt the atmosphere in the City that day and since. It was amazing – a large dark cloud was lifted and people were taken back in time, Derry City will never be the same. The injustice that was done not only on the day but by the Widgery report ripped the life out of a once proud people. My mother’s family was deeply affected and regularly harassed by the British army – raids on houses etc. all is in the past. My Uncle Mickey was wearing his Sunday best; he was walking towards a civilian who was shot to help get him to safety. He was subsequently shot in the head by a high velocity bullet… he did not die yet and I will not go into further details at this point but his body went missing for several hours before any doctor was allowed to examine him.”  He added, “The 15th of June 2010 banished the ghost of the British Army from our streets; today our dignity and pride remain intact. We will continue to work peacefully until we are free from foreign interference. One Island, One Ireland. I felt compelled to write this to thank the AOH in the USA. Not a year went past from 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. did not congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it my friends, this is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the Streets of Derry.”

Back in Washington, Representative Chris Smith joined his New York colleagues and Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Eliot Engel .Peter King and Joseph Crowley to say, “With the release of the Saville report on the ‘Bloody Sunday’ tragedy of January 30, 1972, and its principal findings that British paratroopers initiated gunfire without warning and that the fourteen men they killed were unarmed, the British government has finally given the families and friends of those killed a measure of justice. Nothing can return to them their husbands, fathers, and sons. Yet the report and the British Prime Minister’s apology and statement that the British army’s actions “were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ is an official recognition of truth and a prerequisite for a lasting peace and justice throughout Northern Ireland. We thank the survivors—the families of those killed—for their faithfulness in the quest for truth, and recognize the service they have performed for Northern Ireland.”