Socialist Worker

Bloody Sunday: Murder by British state

by Simon Basketter in Derry
Issue No. 2206

The crowd outside the Guildhall in Derry (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The crowd outside the Guildhall in Derry (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The Saville report released on Tuesday stripped away key lies that the British establishment had told for 38 years about the murder of 14 civilians in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1972.

Lord Saville says that none of the casualties on Bloody Sunday was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting. They were innocent. None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers.

He adds that many of the soldiers lied about their actions. Lord Saville talks of the soldiers of 1 Para losing “self control” on Bloody Sunday, and of the “widespread loss of fire discipline”.

The report says the soldiers involved in the massacre made “knowingly untrue” statements. It also points out that the soldiers did not fire by accident.

For instance the soldier known as Lance Corporal F “did not fire in panic or fear without giving proper thought to whether he had identified a person posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.”

However the report exonerates the British state for the massacre and retells an old lie against one of the victims.

Saville dismisses any idea of a conspiracy or cover-up or pre-mediation by the army or the state.

He says it cannot be sustained that “either that what happened on Bloody Sunday was intended and planned by the authorities or that it was foreseen by the authorities.”

Saville found no evidence of “toleration or encouragement” for the use of unjustified lethal force saying it was not pushed from the top.

While Saville says British officers committed “errors of judgment” he does not apportion blame.

The declaration that the victims of Bloody Sunday were recognised as innocent was greeted by cheers of the thousands in Guildhall Square, the site of the inquiry and where the original anti-internment march was attempting to reach.

However in the case of one victim, Gerald Donaghey, Saville says that nail bombs were “probably on Gerald Donaghey when he was shot.

“However we are sure that Gerald Donaghey was not preparing or attempting to throw a nail bomb when he was shot and we are equally sure that he was not shot because of his possession of nail bombs.”

Over the years many witnesses have come forward to confirm that before and after Gerald’s death he did not have nail bombs on his person.

Saville concludes that the shootings on Bloody Sunday were not the result “of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders.”

But he also notes that Major General Ford, the commander of land forces in Northern Ireland, “expressed the view that he was coming to the conclusion that the minimum force required to deal with the ‘Derry young hooligans’ was, after clear warnings, to shoot selected ringleaders.”

Saville’s report is a huge climbdown and it’s welcomed.

David Cameron admitted on Tuesday that British soldiers had shot unarmed demonstrators on the street.

That admission would not have come without decades of campaigning by the families of the victims and others. Such campaigners were often slurred and vilified.

But the report does not mention unlawful killing and murder. There is no other way to describe what happened on Bloody Sunday.

There was a conspiracy, there was pre-mediation, and there was a cover-up by the highest levels of the state.

Tony Doherty, the son of Patrick Doherty, spoke to the crowd of thousands outside of the Guildhall in Derry. Patrick Doherty was murdered as he tried to call for safety.

He said, “The parachute regiment were frontline assassins for Britain’s political and military elite.

“Our campaign was for justice but we didn’t fight for ourselves.

“We fought for all those who have suffered at the hands of unaccountable power.

“The repression we suffered was the same as against ordinary people all over the world – as in Sharpeville, Tiananmen Square, Darfur, Fallujah and Gaza.”

Families tore up the Widgery Report at the Guildhall, which was full of lies.

All of those who organised and carried out murder on Bloody Sunday should be brought to justice – especially those at the top of the army and the state.


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