By Tommy Sheridan
Monday 25th March 2019
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of Northern Ireland took the decision last week to charge only one former British paratrooper with the murder of civil rights protesters in Derry on 30th January, 1972, in an atrocity which has become known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/14/one-soldier-to-face-charges-over-bloody-sunday-killings. Soldiers from the 1st Parachute Regiment opened fire on an unarmed civil rights march that day and shot 29 civilians. Thirteen of them died where they fell. One died from his wounds a few months later and fifteen others were wounded but survived. All of the victims were aged between 17 and 41. Five of those killed were teenagers. All of the victims were unarmed.
It is a disgraceful decision which rubs salt into the emotional wounds of the victims’ families and serves as a reminder of the fact that the British Establishment is responsible for scores of heinous blood-soaked crimes but always hides its guilt behind false stories, manufactured lies and convenient scapegoats.
Never forget the civil rights march on Sunday 30th January 1972 was a peaceful expression of opposition to years of anti-Catholic and anti-Nationalist discrimination by the unionist majority within the six counties which make up Northern Ireland. In every walk of life Catholics were discriminated against. From jobs for adults to housing for families, education provision for children to access to social services and healthcare Catholics and Nationalists were second class citizens and often subject to verbal abuse and physical assaults with the collusion of the almost exclusively Protestant police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), who did nothing to protect the minority community from loyalist unionist gangs.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in America many ordinary Catholics formed the civil rights movement to press for equal treatment and oppose the ‘gerrymandering’ of communities into Catholic ghettos. Some progressive and embarrassed members of the Protestant community were involved in the early days of that civil rights movement. Catholics and Nationalists were the equivalent of blacks in America’s Southern States and they were sick and tired of being discriminated against.
The British Government response to Catholic and Nationalist community demands for fairness and equal treatment was the deploying of Army Regiments to apparently ‘keep the peace’ and ‘protect’ the minority communities. British Troops arrived in August of 1969 and were initially welcomed by many within the besieged nationalist estates. Their real mission, of course, soon became clear when in 1970 the British Army and the RUC reached an agreement that should any investigations into lethal force by military personnel ever be required the soldiers involved would not be subject to interview and investigation by the legally constituted police force, the RUC, but by the army’s own Military Police thus keeping investigations ‘in-house’.
This arrangement was kept quiet to avoid public scrutiny but effectively gave soldiers posted to Northern Ireland a licence to shoot and kill with impunity. They would not be subject to the rigours of criminal law but instead allowed to operate effectively above and beyond the law.
A submission to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal of April 1972 from solicitors Madden and Finucane on Criminal Conduct and Non-accountability of Soldiers in the North of Ireland states that this procedure constituted;
“…an illegal transfer of control over policing the security situation from the police to the military”.
Their submission exposed the inevitable result of this arrangement;
“As a consequence, lethal force incidents involving soldiers were inadequately investigated and soldiers in uniform engaged in the use of lethal force operated outside the controls of the legal system, and were in every sense above the law” https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/18943.
With such an agreement in place the British Government then resorted to the practices of brutal dictatorships with the introduction of a practice called ‘internment’. This permitted the army and RUC to raid Nationalist and Catholic homes and indiscriminately arrest whomever they chose, interrogate them, torture them and detain them without ever having to bother with the ‘inconvenience’ of conferring charges or conducting trials.
Detention without charges or trial broke every ‘rule of law’ convention recognised across the developed world. Britain was acting like a brutal dictatorship and had to cover its sins by any means possible. Media manipulation, distortions and blackouts became a vital weapon in their armoury.
Until relatively recently a British Army atrocity prior to their actions on Bloody Sunday was largely ignored and hidden from the wider British public and international community. It is now referred to as The Ballymurphy Massacre.
Over a 48 hour period from the early hours of 9th August 1971 through to the 11th of August soldiers from the 1st Parachute Regiment stationed themselves in a local community building they had commandeered as part of a carefully prepared plan codenamed ‘Operation Demetrius’. The first internment raids were carried out and they caused understandable anger and concern in the small tight-knit West Belfast community. Fear and confusion reigned. In the midst of the confusion these highly trained soldiers proceeded to shoot and kill ten defenceless civilians and another died from a heart attack provoked by the conduct of the paratroopers.
Amongst those gunned down were the local Catholic Parish Priest, Father Hugh Mullan, and a mother of eight children, Joan Connolly. A long overdue inquest into the massacre is currently taking place in Belfast and some of the evidence is heart-breaking;
“A man waved a white handkerchief on a stick after soldiers shot an unarmed man in the back and a grandmother in the face, an inquest has heard.
John Maguire recalled the shooting of Joan Connolly (44) and Danny Teggart (44) outside Henry Taggart Army base on August 9, 1971 as he gave evidence at an inquest for the 10 victims of the Ballymurphy massacre yesterday” https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/man-waved-white-hanky-as-unarmed-pair-shot-dead-ballymurphy-massacre-inquest-told-37878902.html.
Several of the dead were shot more than once – some several times. The priest was shot dead despite waving a white t-shirt on a stick as he attempted to assist a man already shot and writhing on the ground. Ironically the wounded man eventually crawled to safety but the priest died on the street. No credible evidence has been presented suggesting they were armed. Autopsy reports reveal that several were shot in the back as they ran away from the paratroopers. Ten of the victims died of gunshot wounds – the 11th died of a heart attack during a confrontation with an armed Para patrol.
Just as they were later to do in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the army released statements describing the victims as gunmen and terrorists. The same 1st Para Regiment that mowed down ten defenceless civilians in Ballymurphy was then despatched to Derry some 6 months later to ‘deal with’ the planned civil rights march on 30th January 1972. In a 20 minute frenzy of what can only be described as psychopathic rage and hatred 29 civilians were shot and 14 subsequently died. It was officially sanctioned murder.
The initial Report into the incident was produced by a lord chief justice, Lord Widgery, who was appointed by the Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath. It was a pathetic Report that failed to apportion proper blame and responsibility at the door of the British Army but even it found the soldiers actions to be ‘bordering on the reckless’ https://www.irishpost.com/news/seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-bloody-sunday-79354. Nonetheless it accepted soldier’s claims that they had fired at gunmen and bomb throwers.
It wasn’t until April 1998 that Prime Minister Tony Blair succumbed to years of intense campaigning by the families of the victims and supporters of justice across Ireland and the world and announced a new inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre to be headed by a judge, Lord Saville. That inquiry lasted 12 years and the final Report was not published until June 2010. It was a damning indictment of the actions of the 1st Parachute Regiment on that day;
“We found no instances where it appeared to us that soldiers either were or might have been justified in firing” https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/14/bloody-sunday-timeline-from-1972-killings-to-charges-against-soldier.
Even the then Tory Prime Minister David Cameron was compelled to issue a public apology on behalf of the British Government and described the soldiers’ actions as;
“both unjustified and unjustifiable” https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/14/bloody-sunday-timeline-from-1972-killings-to-charges-against-soldier.
In July 2012 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), formed after the discredited RUC was disbanded in November 2001, launched a murder investigation into the Bloody Sunday deaths. It involved 30 detectives. To put that into perspective Operation Median launched by the former Lothian and Borders Police into alleged perjury in my civil trial against News Group Newspapers in 2006 deployed 14 police officers so I would have expected an investigation into 29 shootings and 14 murders to command considerably more officers than 30.
Just over 4 years later the PSNI handed their files to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland to consider prosecutions of 1st Parachute Regiment soldiers. The decision on 14th March to bring charges against only one former soldier, identified as Soldier F, for two murders and four attempted murders is deeply disappointing on many fronts but it won’t have surprised the Bloody Sunday justice campaigners. They know how the British state operates and they will have expected this shocking and disgraceful decision.
What pisses me off more than anything is the absence of the names Derek Wilford and Mike Jackson from the charge sheets. These were the two commanding officers of the 1st Parachute Regiment during both the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres. These two men should be charged with multiple murders for although they may not have fired the bullets it was under their commands that 25 innocent civilians died needlessly and without justification. Wilford and Jackson are experienced army commanders and they knew what they were doing. Under their orders and guidance their soldiers committed multiple murders. Yet instead of hounding them both out of the army and ordering them to stand trial for their actions both were instead honoured by Britain and given the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
In fact less than 12 months after commanding the Regiment that shot 29 innocent civilians in what even Tory PM Cameron had to admit was “unjustified and unjustifiable” Col. Derek Wilford was named in the Honours list on 1st January 1973.
The British Empire is ruthless indeed. It honours the commanders of soldiers who commit atrocities in army uniforms but investigates the soldiers and seeks scapegoats from among their ranks. Absolutely the soldiers should be charged with murder but their commanding officers and the politicians who devised the initial rules of engagement and arrangement for soldiers to be allowed to operate above the law must also be charged. They are even bigger criminals than the soldiers who followed their orders.
Always remember the main conclusions of the 12 year long Saville Inquiry;
“The inquiry found the killings were unjustified and that none of the 14 dead was carrying a gun, no warnings were given, no soldiers were under threat and the troops were the first to open fire” https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/14/one-soldier-to-face-charges-over-bloody-sunday-killings.
Had the conduct of the 1st Para Regiment been properly investigated after the Ballymurphy massacre the Bloody Sunday atrocity could have been prevented. Speaking about Bloody Sunday, Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan was killed in Ballymurphy, maintains:
“Had the soldiers who killed my mother been investigated properly and held to account, Bloody Sunday would never have happened” https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/18943.