It was an investigation that took twelve years and over £200m to complete. The Bloody Sunday inquiry, as it was originally called, produced over ten volumes of analysis and led to a comprehensive and glaring report by Lord Saville that was released five years ago today. It caused shockwaves throughout the North of Ireland and it forced the Prime Minister to make a formal and public apology for the actions of the British Army in Derry on one fateful Sunday in 1972.
Bloody Sunday has gone down in the history books as one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. Twenty six people were shot and 14 were killed because they had marched peacefully or watched the Civil Rights march pass through the Bogside area of Derry. Shortly after it happened, the first inquiry into the incident was conducted and its conclusions were…well..rather inconclusive. The resulting Widgery Report is full of supposition and it falls firmly on the side of the Army. It was unacceptable for the families and the witnesses who began a long fight to reopen the case.
The release of the Saville report gave them a brief respite from that fight. It was not the whitewash that the first inquiry became – in fact, it was so comprehensive that most people have only ever read the synopsis and the introduction. Basically it boils down to one thing – the soldiers wounded and killed innocent people and were totally out of line in doing so. Their excuses were false and their testimony was flawed. There was a flagrant disregard for life and a disregard for their orders as well. In short, they were at fault. A few of the first staggering snippets included the following statements:
“Soldiers reacted by losing their self-control and firing themselves, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat of causing death or serious injury,”.
“In the case of those soldiers who fired… it is at least possible that they did so in the indefensible belief that all the civilians they fired at were probably either members of the Provisional or Official IRA or were supporters… and so deserved to be shot.”
Those are pretty damning conclusions and it just keeps going from there. In fact, I think I’ll just hand it over to the PM for a few more juicy bits from the report. Besides, even though his words are very carefully chosen and the apology isn’t all that it could be, I do very much enjoy hearing him apologize for their actions.
The families and loved ones of the victims symbolically tore up copies of the Widgery Report when the results of the Saville Report were known. They also immediately began another fight – one to hold the Paras responsible for the killings. The Saville Report does not offer advice on whether or not to prosecute, but it does say that at least two of the paras were completely responsible for not only willfully disobeying orders and indiscriminately killing, but also for lying to cover up their actions. You would think they’d be in jail five years later, but you’d be wrong.
A few years after the release of the report, immunity was stripped from the Paras who were involved in the shooting and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) began a criminal investigation but it fizzled out over the next couple of years. In January 2015, after years of mounting pressure, they confirmed that the case would be reinvigorated and they assigned a dozen detectives to help the senior investigator. So far, not much has been released, but one thing is for sure. Without the Saville Report, none of this would have ever occurred at all…so even though the progress is 40+ years late, at least there’s something the families can hope for. Better late than never….if it ever happens at all.