Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

July Books 21) The Bloody Sunday Report, Vol VIII

We're in the final stages now, and as with the previous volume, this is a bit of a grab-bag of disparate topics.

More than half of this volume is taken up with an overall assessment of the activities of paramilitary organisations. Indeed, almost half of it is taken up with an in-depth analysis of the staffing, capabilities and activities of the Provos, the Stickies, and the Fianna in Derry at the time of Bloody Sunday. The longest chapter in the book (Chapter 147, 109 pages out of 586) deals with a paramilitary organisation which was not in fact active as such during the army shootings, the Provisional IRA. This seems to reflect partly the availability of information, partly the level of interest generally because of Martin McGuinness's role (he was essentially second-in-command of the Provos at the time) and partly also because the lawyers representing the soldiers had concocted an argument that there was a massive cover-up of Provisional IRA shooting at the Paras, and followed by a deep conspiracy of silence to conceal the deaths of the real gunmen shot by the soldiers on the day. The Provos actually come off rather well; they assured the organisers of the civil rights march that they would not be active, and stuck to that, other than firing a few symbolic shots which missed an army outpost some time after the main action had concluded. Much was made of Saville's finding that Martin McGuinness had had a sub-machine gun on his person on the day, and might have fired a shot, but a close reading of the relevant passage indicates to me that Saville doubted very much that it was true and certainly did not think it made any difference to his main findings.

The Official IRA come off rather worse. They too had assured the organisers of the march that they would stay away on the day, but clearly were in fact the source of both the drainpipe shot from early on during the crucial minutes and Bishop Daly's gunman from later on. I must look out for the recent book about them (which concentrates of course on the subsequent period) but they come across here as incompetent and dangerous, in that order. Saville concludes,
[148.156} we regard with some scepticism the evidence of former members of the Official IRA that they were well organised and disciplined and kept tight control of their weapons. Although we cannot be certain, we are of the view that it is likely that much if not all of the paramilitary activity in the five sectors, to which we have referred in our consideration of the events of those sectors, was that of members of the Official IRA, though we cannot exclude the possibility that there was some Provisional IRA activity as well.
The evidence on the Fianna, the youth wing of the IRA, is heavily confused by 29 pages dealing with one witness whose dramatic evidence was contradicted by almost everyone else in a position to know what was going on. This actually gave me my one and only laugh-out-loud moment of the entire grim report:
149.150: Patrick Ward’s accounts to the Inquiry involve him in being: (i) in charge of an attempt to nail-bomb buildings in Guildhall Square; (ii) involved in a narrow escape when a bullet was fired through the roof of his car; (iii) the saviour of Martin Doherty (PIRA 9), to whom he gave covering fire; and (iv) responsible for shooting at and probably hitting an Army helicopter. He was 16 at the time. To our minds such activity on the part of a young teenager is also inherently implausible.
However, I must say that the section on the Fianna did turn me round on my scepticism about Gerald Donaghey's possession of nail-bombs; I reckon he was assisting the Stickies with their hasty removal of stocks from Glenfada Park North to Abbey Park, and jammed a few nail-bombs into his pockets before running for it (and being shot dead by a bullet aimed at someone else). The evidence on where the nail-bombs might have come from is pretty confused, but it would seem to me slightly more likely to have been the Stickies than the Provos who ran a tighter audit on who had access to explosives. (Though there remains the possibility that the Provos lied to Saville on this point.)

108 pages then deal with evidence for abuse of those arrested when they were taken to the detention centre at Fort George by the Paras. No particular surprise for anyone who has been following the story so far, but Lance Corporal F (who had killed at least three and possibly five people already that afternoon) is identified as particularly aggressive and abusive towards the prisoners, none of whom were subsequently charged with anything relating to the events of the afternoon. Quite apart from the specific allegations of abuse, Saville points out that due procedure was simply alien to the Paras:
[162.6] the identification process conducted by those members of 1 PARA who went to Fort George was in significant respects entirely arbitrary, soldiers having no proper basis for the descriptions or reasons they gave. There appears to have been a large-scale failure to act in good faith, and their actions illustrate that many soldiers were prepared to lie.
Of course, we knew that from what had come before.

There are then four short chapters dealing with minor issues relatiing to the army, three where Saville finds that the army is mor or less in the clear (the composition of Major Loden's list of engagements, the accounting for the rounds of ammunition which were actually fired, and the question of whether or not soldiers fired from the City Walls of Derry) and one rather embarrassing incident where a soldier shot himself in the foot. Saville notes of this last,
168.4: The injury to Gunner INQ 1255 was the only gunshot wound sustained by any soldier in Londonderry during Bloody Sunday.
That trenchantly brief paragraph closes the narrative of events on the day.

Volume VIII ends with assessments of the four key senior officers of the British army involved with Bloody Sunday. General Ford at the top is mildly criticised for sending the Paras to Derry in the first place, though he could not have known that they would start shooting innocent civilians; Brigadier McLellan is cleared; Colonel Wilford is most at fault; and Major Loden, as the commander of Support Company, is cleared. The condemnation of Colonel Wilford, is, however, nuanced; it is not his fault that the soldiers, haviong followed the orders he wrongly gave, then started shooting civilians:

Assessment of the responsibility of Lieutenant Colonel Wilford

171.37: What happened with the arrest operation was not what Colonel Wilford had initially suggested and Brigadier MacLellan had ordered. Instead of an operation in which soldiers would stay in or close to William Street, Colonel Wilford sent them into the Bogside, where they chased people down Rossville Street, into the car park of the Rossville Flats, into Glenfada Park North and as far as Abbey Park.

171.38: In our view Colonel Wilford decided to send Support Company into the Bogside because at the time he gave the order he had concluded (without informing Brigadier MacLellan) that there was now no prospect of making any or any significant arrests in the area he had originally suggested, as the rioting was dying down and people were moving away. In addition it seems to us that he wanted to demonstrate that the way to deal with rioters in Londonderry was not to shelter behind barricades like “Aunt Sallies” while being stoned, as he perceived was what the local troops had been doing, but instead togo aggressively after them, as he and his soldiers had been doing in Belfast.

171.39: What Colonel Wilford failed to appreciate, or regarded as of little consequence, was that his soldiers, who had not been in a position to observe the rioting that had been going on at the Army barriers, would almost certainly be unable to identify anyone as a rioter, save where, when they arrived, they were met by people who were rioting at that time.

171.40: Colonel Wilford failed to inform Brigade that in his view the situation had changed and that the only prospect of making any arrests was to send his soldiers along Rossville Street into the Bogside. He then failed to obey the order that Brigadier MacLellan gave, which prohibited any such movement. He thus created a situation in which soldiers chased people down Rossville Street and beyond, in circumstances where it was not possible to distinguish between those who had merely been marching and those who had been rioting. In other words he set in train the very thing his Brigadier had enjoined him from doing. He should not have ordered his soldiers to go in vehicles along Rossville Street and into the Bogside.

171.41: In our view Colonel Wilford can also be criticised on the grounds that he should not have sent his soldiers into an area which he regarded as dangerous and which he had told his soldiers was dangerous, in other words an area which his soldiers did not know and where they might come under lethal attack from paramilitaries, who dominated part of the city. He knew that his soldiers would accordingly be very much on their guard, ready to respond instantly with gunfire at identified targets, as they were trained to respond, if they did come under such attack. He knew that his soldiers would not withdraw if they came under lethal attack but were trained not just to take cover, but instead to move forward and, as he himself said, seek out the “enemy”.

171.42 In these circumstances, on his own estimation of the danger of lethal attacks by paramilitaries, Colonel Wilford must have appreciated that there was a significant risk that sending his soldiers into the Bogside on an arrest operation could lead to an armed engagement with republican paramilitaries. He should have appreciated that if this did happen, then there was also, in view of the numbers of people around, a significant risk that people other than soldiers’ justifiable targets would be killed or injured, albeit by accident, from Army gunfire. To our minds this was another reason why Colonel Wilford should not have launched an incursion into the Bogside.

171.43 The fact that what in the event happened on Bloody Sunday when the soldiers entered the Bogside was not a justifiable response to a lethal attack by republican paramilitaries, but instead soldiers opening fire unjustifiably, cannot provide an answer to this criticism, which is based not on what happened, but what at the time Colonel Wilford thought might happen.
171.47: In summary, therefore, in our view Colonel Wilford should not have sent soldiers of Support Company into the Bogside for the following reasons:
  1. because in doing so he disobeyed the orders given by Brigadier MacLellan;
  2. because his soldiers, whose job was to arrest rioters, would have no or virtually no means of identifying those who had been rioting from those who had been taking part in the civil rights march; and
  3. because he should not have sent his soldiers into an unknown area which he and they regarded as a dangerous area, where the soldiers might well come under attack from paramilitaries, in circumstances where the soldiers’ response would run a significant risk that people other than paramilitaries engaging the soldiers would be killed or injured by Army gunfire.
171.48: Colonel Wilford did not foresee that his soldiers would act as in the event they did; and we consider that in this regard he cannot be fairly criticised.
It's a minor lacuna, given the catalogue of evidence in the report as a whole, but it would have been good to have had a summary at the end of this section listing also the responsibilities of individual soldiers as described in previous volumes. Colonel Wilford now lives about an hour's drive from me in Belgium, but I do not think I will drop round and ask for a cup of tea.

One more to go.

Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions
Tags: bloody sunday, bookblog 2010, world: northern ireland

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