Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

August Books 4) The Bloody Sunday Report, Vol X; and my conclusions

The tenth and last volume of the Blood Sunday Report is lengthy (541 numbered pages) but doen't really add much substance. The first 36 pages are a two-part appendix, a longish memo about how and to a lesser extent why the Inquiry was set up and then a listing of the lawyers involved; and there then follows another appendix containing Saville's opening statement, 41 rulings made by the Tribunal in the course of gathering and hearing evidence, and eight court judgements which over-rode the Tribunal's own rulings. The last three pages are a short bibliography.

The first of these elements is by far the most interesting, explaining the Inquiry's operations and in particular the difficulties of identifying witnesses (especially former soldiers) after thirty years, and the intricacies of the process of giving evidence. Indeed, most of the second appendix chronicles, in tedious detail, how Saville's initial (probably over-ambitious) intentions that all, or almost all, hearings should happen in public in Derry, and that the soldiers involved should be identified by surname rather than by cipher, were rolled back by the courts. Saville gets in a barb at this towards the end of the opening memo, when he defends the cost of the whole operation:
There were various judicial reviews and some subsequent appeals. The length and cost of the Inquiry was further increased by moving the sittings from Londonderry to London and back to Londonderry, in consequence of an order by the Court of Appeal.
So it ends.

Well, after 5030 pages, what do I think of it all?

First of all, it was very definitely a worthwhile exercise. The cost was huge, but the cost of failing to address the events of Bloody Sunday in the first place was even greater. It is no exaggeration to say that Bloody Sunday was the single most politically significant act of violence during the entire period of the Troubles. The awful fact that 13 unarmed civilians had been mown down in the streets was exacerbated by the state's attempts to excuse that awful fact, including the previous inquiry which was set up in its immediate aftermath. On the whole, Saville is discreet about the conduct of the Widgery Inquiry, and almost completely silent about its findings, but at one point the mask slips:
[Appendix 2.8, § 19:] It is clear that the present Inquiry has been instituted because the previous Inquiry did not succeed, for whatever reason, in achieving the general objective of inquiries under the 1921 Act. This objective is, as Lord Justice Salmon said in his report, to restore public confidence where a crisis in that confidence has occurred (see 1966 Cmnd 3121 at paragraph 28). Indeed, there is a substantial body of responsible public opinion to the effect that the Widgery Inquiry, so far from restoring public confidence, compounded the crisis. We consider that our ability to restore confidence will be undermined, unless we can form a wholly independent judgment, based on the facts before us, on the question of anonymity – and indeed on any other questions that we have to consider.
Nobody who reads the 5030 pages of the Saville Inquiry, particularly when compared with the 39 cursory pages of Widgery (dissected by many others in the years since) can doubt that it is a sincere effort to restore that confidence. The whining of the lawyer for the murderous soldiers that Saville 'cherry-picked' the evidence simply is not sustainable if you actually read even the initial summary, let alone the entire document.

There is, all the same, room for dispute of some of the findings. I'm not comfortable about the nail-bombs found on Gerard Donaghey's body; I'm not wholly convinced about the exoneration of the RMP (Saville spends 11 pages in Appendix 2.39 complaining that the victims' lawyers bungled their examination of this issue); I'm surprised that Saville did not include his devastating conclusions on the illegality of the arrests in the main upfront summary (§3.120 would have been an appropriate place); I think Brigadier McLellan is let off too lightly, and I also agree with my old friend Niall Ó Dochartaigh, who has written both academically and in newspaper articles about Saville's failure to examine more contextually the role of General Ford. More generally, Saville does not examine - though he drops heavy hints about his views - the overall military culture where you could wander around the Bogside and take pot-shots at civilians in the full knowledge that the moral, legal and political forces of the British state would unconditionally stand behind your actions. I was struck on several occasions that commanding officers would cover up their subordinates' disobedience by claiming, falsely, that it was all in accordance with their orders. This was true of Lieutenant 119 claiming that Soldiers E, F, G and H advanced to Glenfada Park on their murderous rampage on his instruction, rather than their own initiative; it's true of Major Loden claiming that all the firing was carried out on his supervision; and it's true of Brigadier McLellan, claiming in the teeth of the evidence that Colonel Wilford had accurately and precisely carried out the orders he had been given to go into the Bogside in the first place. If the consequences had not been so awful, the loyalty of these officers to those they commanded would be rather laudable.

As mentioned back in Volume VIII, while I appreciate the conclusions on the four senior officers, it would have been good to have expanded that section also with conclusions on the individual soldiers, which are nowhere tabulated. I do that here as follows, more or less in the chronological order adopted by Saville:

Soldier

killed

wounded

Corporal A or Private B

Damien Donaghey (deliberately)
John Johnston (injured by shoot-through or ricochet)

Private R

Jackie Duddy

Lance Corporal V

Margaret Deery

Lieutenant N

Michael Bridge

Private Q

Michael Bradley

Sergeant O, Private R and/or Private S

Patrick McDaid
Pius McCarron

Private T or possibly Private S

Patrick Brolly

Lance Corporal F

Michael Kelly

Corporal P, and possibly Lance Corporal J and/or Corporal E

William Nash
John Young
Michael McDaid

Private U

Hugh Gilmour

Private L or Private M (ordered by Colour Sergeant 002 and/or Corporal 039)

Kevin McElhinney

possibly Corporal P or Lance Corporal J

Alexander Nash (shot while tending to his dying son William Nash)

Corporal E

Patrick O’Donnell

Lance Corporal F or Private H

William McKinney

Joe Mahon

Private G or Private H

Jim Wray (shot a second time as he lay dying)

Michael Quinn

Lance Corporal F or Private G

Joe Friel

E, F, G or H

Daniel Gillespie

Private G

Gerard McKinney
Gerald Donaghey

Lance Corporal F

Bernard McGuigan
Patrick Doherty

Patrick Campbell
Daniel McGowan

Obviously a good day's work for Lance Corporal F and Private G, who between them killed at least five and maybe seven of the thirteen fatalities, and wounded another two to six. They will, of course, never be prosecuted; nobody will.

I have a couple of other complaints about the presentation of the evidence.

i) There is no map of the overall sequence of events, and while some of the sectors are mapped out in detail, others are not. For that level of cartographical detail you have to go to the Guardian, whose plotting of the fatalities I reproduce here:


This map of course lacks the time dimension. The first fatality was Jackie Duddy, at top right, in the courtyard of the Rossville Flats; then the six near the Rossville Street barricade; then the four in and around Glenfada Park; and finally the two to the south of the Rossville Flats, shot at long range from Glenfada Park. (I considered dotting in the locations of the wounded as well, but my graphic skills are not up to it; there were two at the very beginning near William Street to the north of Columbcille Court, six in the Rossville Flats courtyard, only one at the barricade, five in Glanfada Park North and two more to the south of the flats at the end.)

ii) While the website heroically includes all the text of the report, hyperlinked to the relevant testimony where appropriate, the actual search function on the site is pretty poor - doesn't seem to include the body of the report, for instance - and it is almost impossible to drill down to find particular nuggets, particularly in the very long documents submitted to the Inquiry by the lawyers. In addition, while apparently the DVD (which I realise I must now buy) does include audio and video files from the day, these have not been put online and are therefore not accessible to the wider public.

iii) The final volume refers (Vol.X, A1.1.90) to
the creation of a virtual reality model of the relevant part of the city [which] contained a photographic panorama of the Bogside as it was in the late 1990s. However, the user could switch to another version in which artists’ impressions of the buildings that had been present in 1972 had been superimposed on the modern panorama. The virtual reality model was used to assist many witnesses. They could use it to identify particular locations and could also, using a stylus on the screen, mark “still” versions of the panorama with arrows or lines in order to pinpoint a particular place. The marked versions could then be preserved for future reference. When in use, the virtual reality images were displayed on the public screens.
A lawyer friend, who knows Saville personally, tells me that he too has seen extracts from this virtual reality system; it would be a shame if it has now been packed away never to be seen by the public.

These are minor quibbles. The report is a triumph of investigation. Its publication was greeted by whining from the Tory right and from some Unionists. (Though not, to do him credit, Lee Reynolds.) But the fact is that British soldiers had slaughtered their fellow citizens, and a truthful accounting was needed. No state handles the violence of its own agents well, and the disgrace of the Widgery report showed how badly the UK can deal with it. (English readers may by now be thinking of the more recent cases of Ian Tomlinson and Jean-Charles de Menezes.) The truth sometimes hurts, especially if it comes 38 years late. But that can be a good thing too.

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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