The pain and injustice of generations lifted when Lord Saville released his report into Bloody Sunday last week.
It investigated the murder by British soldiers of 14 civilians on a civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1972.
The report found that soldiers knowingly lied about what had happened on the day. It limits blame to the individual soldiers who fired the guns and denies that there was a conspiracy or a premeditated plan by the British state to repress the marchers and cover it up.
But the Saville report remains an incredible breakthrough. The British state has been forced to admit that its soldiers shot and killed unarmed civilians.
Regina McLaughlin, daughter of the murdered Gerard McKinney, said she was “elated”.
“Saville told me nothing I didn’t already know,” Regina told Socialist Worker. “But now the world knows my father was an innocent man. The whole world knows that we were lied about. The government lied and the soldiers lied.”
The Saville report clearly states that all the victims were innocent and did not pose a threat to soldiers.
It says the actions of British soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were “unjustified” and “unjustifiable”.
Relatives who saw the report first inside the Guildhall building in Derry got to the windows and gave thumbs up signs to the protesters gathered outside.
The crowd of thousands had marched with the families along the original route of the 1972 civil rights march. Now they cheered.
They applauded because the thumbs up meant the report was honest about the victims – and because they hadn’t received the first news of it from a Tory prime minister.
There were some boos when people listened to David Cameron’s speech. But they came when he praised the British army or when he mentioned the army’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Importantly, they booed when Cameron mentioned fighting terrorism today – because they were all too aware of the real effects of an earlier “war on terrorism”.
Their cheers were not for a Tory prime minister or a law lord but for the continued fight for justice of the families in particular, and the people of Derry in general.
Bloody Sunday’s foul act of state sponsored murder was followed by foul lies. The big lies, at least, had finally been admitted after years of determined campaigning.
John Kelly has campaigned for 38 years to clear the name of his brother Michael, who was just 17 when he was shot. John said, “We have done a great job and we put them in their place. We finished them off.”
But there was also sadness and anger mixed with the joy. “Justice hasn’t been done because you can’t bring my brother back,” he continued. “My children grew up never knowing my brother. But justice has been done to the extent that he has been recognised as innocent.”
Leo Young spoke about his sense of closure over the murder of his brother John, who was also just 17 years old when he died.
“To be honest I don’t care if there are prosecutions or not,” he said. “My brother was declared innocent and that is what we set out to achieve.”
Leo responded to some right wing complaints about the expense and length of the Saville inquiry. “The soldiers were completely damned for their lies and their deceit,” he said. “It was them and their lies that kept the tribunal going.”
The first inquiry into the murders, conducted by Lord Widgery in 1972, reached its conclusions in just three months. It was a cover-up.
“People have argued about the cost – the costs should be sent to Widgery,” said Leo. “If he had done his job right in the first place we wouldn’t be here today.”
Other relatives of those murdered believe that the soldiers implicated by Saville’s report should be prosecuted.
Liam Wray’s brother Jim was killed on Bloody Sunday. Liam said, “Jim was fleeing Glenfada Park and was brought down by one shot that was deliberately targeted at him.
“While he lay on the ground, he was shot again.
“The report is the vindication of what the people in Derry and the families have been saying for 38 years – that our relatives were murdered. I will be looking for prosecutions.
“The beautiful thing about this report is that it gives hope to other people around the world. If you campaign long enough then justice will prevail.”
Many disagree with Saville’s conclusion that the killings happened because of individual soldiers’ loss of “self control”.
Mikey Bridge, who was wounded on Bloody Sunday, is one of them. “There is evidence that what happened reached higher than the soldiers on the ground,” he said.
“The evidence of complicity higher in the British establishment is there. They attempted to cover up what happened here 38 years ago. You don’t blatantly label the guilty just to cover wayward soldiers.
“All the people in the government had to have known what was going to happen on that day. They were discussing shooting ‘lead rioters’, as they called them, only days before.
“There is a paper trail which leads back to the then prime minister – or at least there was.”
The cover-up Captain Jackson started
Captain Michael Jackson, a former intelligence officer, was second in command of the first battalion of the Parachute Regiment on the day of Bloody Sunday.
He continued his career by becoming head of the British army and overseeing occupying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jackson told the Saville inquiry that he could vaguely remember being in the Bogside – but that it was a long time ago.
Major Ted Loden, who had been the company commander of the group of soldiers that had fired all the fatal shots, also gave evidence.
It was put to him that a typewritten “shot list”, which he agreed he’d drawn up on the evening of Bloody Sunday, was seriously misleading.
The document details 14 separate “engagements” in which soldiers had fired on men identified as gunmen, nail-bombers or petrol-bombers.
A handwritten version of the list was produced. It turned out not to be in Loden’s writing – but in Jackson’s.
Jackson said he had a “vague memory” of drawing up the list.
Other documents emerged in Jackson’s handwriting. These included personal accounts of Bloody Sunday by Jackson’s immediate superior, Lt Col Derek Wilford, by Loden, by the commanders of the two other para companies deployed in the Bogside, and by the battalion’s intelligence officer.
Jackson agreed that he must have been ordered by someone to carry out this elaborate exercise – but couldn’t remember whom.
He said, “The requirement may have been instigated in London”.
In the evidence, none of those whose accounts appeared in Jackson’s handwriting remembered telling him their experiences.
The Saville report notes that the shot list, “was incomplete and lacking in information that might have provided us with assistance”.
It also notes that “several targets were on the other side of buildings from the soldiers who claim to have seen and then fired at them; this clearly casts doubt on the accuracy of these grid references.”
In fact the shot list is a fabrication. It describes unnamed people firing an inaccurate number of bullets at people who in reality were in completely different places. Occasionally they even manage to fire through buildings.
Solicitors for the families at the Saville inquiry argued the list provided, “further compelling material from which it may be inferred that some members of the Parachute Regiment decided at an early stage to provide a bogus account of what happened.”
Saville disagreed. He said, “We are satisfied that Major Loden prepared his list in good faith and not for the purpose of deliberate deception or cover-up.”
However the Saville inquiry says that, “The list did play a role in the Army’s explanations of what occurred on the day.”
But it doesn’t view the way the list was used as evidence of a cover-up.
The army press office didn’t carry out the public relations response to Bloody Sunday – military intelligence did.
There were two press releases on the evening of Bloody Sunday.
The first was accompanied by an instruction that it should be described as a report phoned in by, “one of the chaps in Derry.”
A senior intelligence officer, Colonel Maurice Tugwell, created the report.
It claimed that the demonstrators had used CS gas on the soldiers, that 50 arrests were made and then, “gunmen opened fire from the rubble at the base of Rossville Flats and the soldiers returned fire.”
The second press release read: “The companies of 1st Battalion the Para …came under nail bomb attack and a fusillade of fire of 50 to 80 rounds from the area of Rossville Flats and Glenfada Flats. Fire was returned at seen gunmen and nail bombers... In all a total of well over 200 rounds was fired in the general direction of the soldiers. Fire continued to be returned only at identified targets.”
Saville comprehensively shows that all of this is untrue.
Lord Balniel, the minister of state for defence, then used the shot list in the House of Commons on 1 February 1972, when he defended the actions of the soldiers. He claimed that they had fired “in self-defence or in defence of their comrades who were threatened”.
On the same day British intelligence distributed a document far and wide that read, “Throughout the fighting, the army fired only at identified targets – at attacking gunmen and bombers. The troops came under indiscriminate firing.”
The document ended with a list detailing 14 separate shooting incidents that it suggested made up the “fighting” – Jackson’s shot list.
The list also provided the structure for soldiers’ evidence to the whitewash of the Widgery inquiry.
Intelligence officer Colin Wallace was part of the army team preparing for the Widgery tribunal. In one part of his evidence he pointed to two documents created after Bloody Sunday.
The Knocking Game emerged in April 1972 and Clockwork Orange in 1973–1974. Both were black propaganda documents to be shown to politicians and journalists – and they said, among other things, that the IRA had fired first on Bloody Sunday.
After all this Saville concludes, “We have found no evidence that anyone involved in military information falsified any Army or government document relating to Bloody Sunday, nor any evidence that anyone involved in military information disseminated to the public anything about Bloody Sunday, knowing or believing that information to be untrue.”
Jackson’s later escapades were marked by similar controversies over propaganda. He was head of the British Army when prime minister Tony Blair used the dodgy dossier to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Bloody Sunday isn’t remarkable because of the way that top officials fabricated information and covered up their crimes.
It stands in a long tradition of the state spreading false information to hide its brutality.
But it doesn’t always manage to get away with it.
Lies and the invisible nail bombs
The Saville report repeats an old allegation against one of the victims – Gerald Donaghey – that he probably had nail bombs in his pockets when he died.
Saville notes the contradictory and confused evidence of soldiers and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers about when and where they saw nail bombs in Gerald’s pockets.
But he interprets this as proof that there was no conspiracy to put nail bombs in Gerald’s pockets.
And if there was no conspiracy, the nail bombs could not have been planted.
Civilians had carried the wounded Gerald into the home of Raymond Rogan. They saw no nail bombs.
Leo Young described searching Gerald’s jacket pockets for identification after they’d laid him down in the house. There had been no nail bombs.
Leo said, “As far as I’m concerned, until the day I die, I never saw anything in Gerald Donaghey’s pockets.
“In the car, as he was lying across my chest, I never saw any nail bombs. If I had I would have stopped the car – why would anyone take bombs to a hospital?”
Dr Kevin Swords examined Gerald in the house, loosening his clothes to expose a gunshot wound.
He noticed no nail bombs.
A reporter with the Belfast Telegraph newspaper watched as Dr Swords examined Gerald.
He noticed no nail bombs.
Raymond Rogan carried the dying Gerald in his arms to his car and eased him into the rear seat.
There were no nail bombs.
A military patrol stopped the car and a soldier drove the car to a first aid post on Craigavon Bridge.
Here a medical officer from the First Anglian Regiment examined Gerald before pronouncing him dead. There were no nail bombs.
Shortly afterwards, a police photographer was summoned along with a Times newspaper journalist. Miraculously the nail bombs were, literally, sticking out of Gerald’s tight jeans.
Saville chose not to adopt the obvious conclusion.