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Bloody Sunday: soldiers' 'serious loss of discipline'

By Penny Ayres

Updated on 15 June 2010

The Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday finds that British soldiers suffered "a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline", as Martin McGuinness tells Channel 4 News he "did not have a gun" during the fatal protest.

Memorial to the victims of Bloody Sunday (Credit: Getty)

"We found no instances where it appeared to us that soldiers either were or might have been justified in firing," the inquiry found, also making clear that "in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire."

The report heavily criticised many soldiers for "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".

Some soldiers acted under a "mistaken belief" that they were under threat, but some were singled out for firing "either in the knowledge or belief that no-one in the areas into which they were firing was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there posed such a threat," the 5,000 page report found.

The 10-volume report also states that it is "at least possible" that some of the shots fired were done under the "indefensible belief" that the people they shot at were "probably" either members or supporters of the Provisional or Official IRA, "and so deserved to be shot".

The report clearly says that the victims did not pose a "threat of causing death or serious injury" or were armed, with the exception of Gerald Donaghey who, the inquiry believed, had nail bombs in his possession when he died, but was not attempting to use them. The inquiry found that instead he was "shot while trying to escape from the soldiers" and "we are equally sure that he was not shot because of his possession of nail bombs".

The inquiry, which was announced by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998, also found that "with the exception of Gerald Donaghey, who was a member of the Provisional IRA's youth wing, the Fianna, none of those killed our wounded by soldiers of Support Company belonged to either the Provisional or the Official IRA."

More from Channel 4 News on Bloody Sunday:
- Bloody Sunday killings 'unjustifiable'
- Channel 4's role in the Bloody Sunday inquiry
- The day my brother Jackie came home in a box
- Bloody Sunday Inquiry: a timeline

Lance Corporal F came in for scathing criticism in the report, with his previous claim that he fired at a man in possession of a pistol was "to his knowledge false". The report authors said they were in "no doubt" that L Cpl F shot Patrick Doherty and Bernard McGuigan, and was one of four soldiers who went in to Glenfada Park North, killing William McKinney and Jim Wray, and injuring at least four more people.

The four soldiers were particularly criticised for shooting Jim Wray and William McKinney in the back, and for a second shot on Jim Wray "probably as he lay mortally wounded".

"Whichever soldier was responsible for firing the second shot, we are sure that he must have known that there was no possible justification for shooting Jim Wray as he lay on the ground," the inquiry found.

The report makes particular mention of the role Martin McGuinness, now deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, played on the day, saying he was "probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun" before the soldiers arrived.

"Though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this, save that we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire," the report concludes.

Mr McGuinness told Channel 4 News that the report had showed "the highly suspect unnamed sources that provided that information weren’t sources to be relied upon".

"How could you hide a sub machine gun? It didn't happen I did not have a gun and he makes it absolutely clear that the tribunal were sure that I was not involved in any activity whatsoever that justified the soldiers shooting," he said.

Military responsibility

The report dismissed suggestions that the UK an Northern Ireland governments and the army tolerated or encouraged the use of unjustified lethal force, but did single out some members of the chain of command.

Lt Col Wilford, the officer in charge of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, should not have sent soldiers into the Bogside, the report concludes.

In doing so he disobeyed the orders given by Brigadier MacLellan, he put his soldiers in a position where they could not identify those who had been rioting from those who had simply been taking part in the civil rights march, and that, by putting them into an unfamiliar area regarded as dangerous, there was a "significant risk" that others would be killed or injured.

Lieutenant N fired the first shots after soldiers had gone into Bogside, over the heads of people in an alleyway or on Chamberlain Street at the end of the alleyway. These shots, the inquiry concluded, were to frighten people to move on and "cannot be justified".

He "failed to appreciate, as he should had done, that firing unjustified shots … was likely to lead other soldiers mistakenly to believe, as some probably did, that Support Company was at that time coming under attack or the threat of attack from republican paramilitaries," the inquiry found.

Who shot the victims - in the report's words:
Jackie Duddy (aged 17): In our view Private R of Mortar Platoon was probably the soldier who aimed at and shot Jackie Duddy. This soldier had disembarked from Sergeant O's APC in Rossville Street, but then ran after this vehicle as it continued into the entrance to the car park of Rossville Flats, before he fired at Jackie Duddy.

Michael Kelly (17): We are sure that shortly after he disembarked from his vehicle and while events were unfolding in the car park of the Rossville Flats, Lance Corporal F of Anti-Tank Platoon fired from the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp and mortally injured Michael Kelly, who was behind the rubble barricade in Rossville Street.

William Nash (19), John Young (17), Michael McDaid (20): "Shot and killed at the rubble barricade. We are sure that Corporal P of Mortar Platoon, who had disembarked from Sergeant O's APC in Rossville Street, shot at least one of these casualties and may have been responsible for all three, though Lance Corporal J of Anti-Tank Platoon may have shot one of them and we cannot eliminate the possibility that Corporal E was responsible for another. Corporal P fired from a position in Rossville Street north of the rubble barricade and south of the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp; while Lance Corporal J and Corporal E fired from a position at that ramp.

Hugh Gilmour (17): We are sure that Private U, a member of Mortar Platoon, who had taken up a position at the northern end of Block 1 of the Rossville Flats, fired at and mortally wounded Hugh Gilmour as the latter was running south (ie away from the soldiers) along the Rossville Street side of Block 1 of the Rossville Flats.

Kevin McElhinney (17): We are sure that either Private L or Private M, members of Composite Platoon who had taken up positions at the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp, shot Kevin McElhinney as he was crawling south from the rubble barricade away from the soldiers. Both probably fired at him on the orders of one or perhaps tow nearby non-commissioned officers, Colour Sergeant 002 and Corporal 039.

William McKinney (26), Jim Wray (22): The four soldiers who moved from the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp into Glenfada Park North were Corporal E, Lance Corporal F, Private G and Private H…We are sure that these four soldiers were between them responsible for the casualties in Glenfada Park North…It is not possible to identify which particular soldiers shot the other casualties (except Patrick O'Donnell). However, we consider it more likely than not that either Lance Corporal F or Private H fired the shot that mortally wounded William McKinney…and that either Private F or Private H fired the first shot to hit Jim Wray.
As we have said, Jim Wray was shot twice, the second time probably when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground. It is probable that either Private G or Private H fired this second shot.

Gerard McKinney (35), Gerald Donaghey (17): There is no doubt that Private G was the soldier who at range of only a few yards fired at and mortally wounded Gerard McKinney in Abbey Park. His shot passed through Gerard McKinney's body and also mortally wounded Gerald Donaghey.

Bernard McGuigan (41), Patrick Doherty (31): We are sure that Lance Corporal F fired at and shot Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty…this soldier fired across Rossville Street from the Rossville Street entranceway into Glenfada Park North.

John Johnston (who died on 16 June 1972, aged 59): Two soldiers fired their shots from the derelict building (south of William Street) more or less simultaneously in a single burst of fire. All these shots were aimed and fired at Damien Donaghey. Unknown to Corporal A or Private B, fragments from one or more of these shots hit and injured John Johnston, who was on the same patch of waste ground.

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