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Bloody Sunday report criticised by Paras

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 16 June 2010

As Prime Minister David Cameron apologises for the "unjustifiable" killings of 13 civilians by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in 1972, Political Editor Gary Gibbon questions whether prosecutions could now take place.

The Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings found that there was "no doubt" that the actions of British soldiers were "both unjustified and unjustifiable", Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs.

Thirteen people were shot dead by British soldiers from the Parachute Regiment after a civil rights march in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 30 January 1972.

A further 13 were wounded, and one man died within five months of the attack due to related injuries.

The report published yesterday found that all of those who died were unarmed on the day.

The longest and most expensive inquiry in British legal history said that the order to send in British soldiers to Bogside, Londonderry, "should not have been given".

Six paratroopers who served in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday have criticised the Saville Inquiry.  The soldiers - none of whom fired shots at the victims - told the BBC that they rejected Lord Saville's criticism of Lt Col Wilford who commanded 1 Para that day.

Soldiers criticise the Saville Report
Six of the British paratroopers who served in Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday have spoken out in defence of their commanding officer, criticising the Saville Report.

In a statement last night the soldiers rejected the Saville Report's criticism of Lt Col Derek Wilford - who commanded First Parachute Regiment (1 Para).

Wilford has always remained adamant in the ensuing years that his soldiers were fired on first. The Saville Report criticised Wilford for entering Bogside and said he disobeyed the order given by his superior Brigadier Pat McClellan.

The six soldiers told the BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme that they believed the Saville Report had to blame somebody of rank, and Col Wilford fitted the bill.

The British paratroopers "lost self control" during the killings, the prime minister said while he apologised on behalf of the government for the incident.

"I am deeply, deeply sorry," he told MPs. Adding that the shooting "should never, ever had happened".

The inquiry found that "on balance" the first shot was fired by British soldiers and that none of the casualties were 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".

Some of the victims were also shot as they tried to crawl away, David Cameron said.

Cameron apologises but what happens next?
John Major said in 1993 that those shot could be regarded as innocent. Tony Blair echoed those words in 1998. Today David Cameron went further and issued an apology. What now? asks political editor Gary Gibbon.

If there were to be criminal prosecutions for any British soldiers, and Lord Saville’s report indicates certain candidates, those individuals would have to re-testify under the original terms of the tribunal.

Under those rules, individuals’ evidence to the tribunal could not be used against them in a prosecution… with one exception – perjury in front of the tribunal, the attorney general said, was different.

Lord Saville clearly thinks some soldiers perjured themselves. It’s hard to imagine that someone won’t consider a civil prosecution. David Cameron was careful not to say anything about criminal prosecutions, which rests with the Northern Ireland DPP, but you’re bound to come away from his "move on" conclusion to the statement in the Commons thinking it’s the last thing he wants to come out of this.

Read Gary Gibbon's blog

The prime minister said while investigating the shootings the tribunal found some soldiers had "knowingly put forward false accounts."

Speaking after the Commons statement, the former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, offered a ''fulsome apology'' for the events of Bloody Sunday.

However the Saville inquiry also concluded that Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was present at the time of the violence and "probably armed with a submachine gun".

But it ruled he did not engage in "any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire".

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.

More from Channel 4 News on Bloody Sunday:
- Bloody Sunday: soldiers' 'serious loss of discipline'
- The day my brother Jackie came home in a box
- Bloody Sunday: what can the report achieve?
- Controversy either way in Bloody Sunday report
- Bloody Sunday Inquiry: a timeline
- What would an 'unlawful' Bloody Sunday verdict mean?

Earlier a procession of relatives made their way to Guildhall in Londonderry to get access to the long-awaited Saville report. The relatives clutched placards bearing the photographs of their dead loved ones, with the words: 'Set the Truth Free'.

After more than 30 years many of the families of those who died said they sought closure. Relatives spoke to crowds in Derry celebrating that those who died as "innocent".

Tony Doherty, whose father Paddy died when paratroopers opened fire, said the victims had been vindicated and the Parachute Regiment disgraced. To loud applause outside the Guildhall in Londonderry, he addressed thousands who had gathered to hear Lord Saville's conclusions.

"It can now be proclaimed to the world that the dead and the wounded of Bloody Sunday, civil rights marchers, one and all, were innocent, one and all, gunned down on their own streets by soldiers who had been given to believe that they could kill with perfect impunity," he said.

Relatives cheer as findings announced
Up to 10,000 moved into Guildhall square and the approaching streets with large banners of the 14 deceased. Many were singing "we shall overcome" as indeed they did on Jan 30th 1972, writes Alex Thomson in Londonderry.

In William Street where the original march was stopped, they smashed through a banner of the 1972 Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday - now universally accepted as a feeble whitewash.

After a night of anxious expectation in Derry, bereaved relatives hugged each other and cried as they made their way to the venue where they were greeted with applause.

John Kelly, brother of Michael Kelly who was killed on the day, said earlier he had been unable to sleep the night before as he anxiously awaited the release of the report.

"We are not looking for an apology, you cannot apologise to the dead," he said. But Mr Kelly said he hoped that a 38-year struggle to have the circumstances of his brother's death officially acknowledged was about to end.

Former Bishop Edward Daly, whose role on Bloody Sunday was captured on an iconic mural showing him waving a white handkerchief in the air as he helped carry the dying 17-year-old Jackie Duddy, told Channel 4 News  it had been an "extraordinary day".

"I spent much of the afternoon with families of the victims. Their reaction to the report was excited, enormously relieved, a feeling of vindication that a right has been wronged and Widgery has been binned. All of these emotions were there and they were very powerful indeed," he said.

However Gregory Campbell, the DUP MP for East Londonderry, told Channel 4 News it was now time to look forward.

"The best thing that we can do with Saville is close the book and look forward rather than looking back 40 years," he said.

"The facts of the matter are that there were violence and murder and the paratroop regiment were deployed. Whatever they did Saville has investigated 30 years later.

"In the 30 year campaign of the provisional IRA there were 10,000 bloody days into which no investigation has been conducted, into which none of £200m pounds has been spent investigating or analysing."

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