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Tuesday 28 March 2017

Finally, the world has been told they were innocent

INNOCENT. The word burst forth with raw emotion and sorrowful pride from the lips of Bloody Sunday survivors and victims' families.

It was the word they had waited to hear, so longingly and for almost four decades.

Finally, they were able to proclaim to the world what they themselves had known for more than 38 years. The 14 victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre were innocent -- one and all.

Amongst them, eight youths under the age of 21; a father of six crawling for cover; an amateur cameraman who had gone to the aid of the injured; a man pitifully waving a white handkerchief.

The police presence in Derry was virtually invisible and a holiday air of anticipation hung over the streets as the city came to a standstill yesterday, with crowds of 10,000 people out in solidarity.

Weighing 20kg and containing 5,000 pages in 10 volumes, the Saville Inquiry's report cost €240m and took 12 years.

With laughter and chatter, women pushing buggies and renditions of 'We Shall Overcome', a commemorative march through Derry's Bogside yesterday, retracing the steps of the original marchers, seemed to cause the past and present to shift seamlessly.

One survivor shook his head in bewilderment at how uncannily alike the mood was to the start of that fateful 1972 civil rights demonstration.

"It was the very same -- people chatting, mothers with wains in their buggies," said Kevin Hasson, who was just 14 in 1972.

"All those crowds -- it was exciting for kids -- it was like the circus had come to town. People never imagined that anything was going to happen."

Outside a hair salon near William Street, two women in plastic wraps stood with their hair slick with wet dye.

"They shut the salon up," explained Annie Reilly. "It's good to have the respect shown," she said, mindless of her dripping tresses.

There was a wave of applause as marchers symbolically broke through a barrier emblazoned with the legend 'The Widgery Report' at William Street.

Inside the Guildhall, 56 family members and wounded of Bloody Sunday had been busily absorbing the report since 10am. Outside on a huge screen, black and white footage of the carnage recalled the horror of that day.

The only shot in colour poignantly showed a pair of shoes abandoned close to a huge pool of blood of a startlingly crimson hue.

Then, there was a roar from the crowd as family members appeared at the windows, waving copies of the report.

From a stained-glass window, a hand emerged to give a triumphant thumbs up and the crowd burst into applause.

All was silent then for David Cameron's speech to the House of Commons, broken only by deep boos and incredulous hisses as he proclaimed his belief that the British army was the finest in the world, before he went on to say that what had happened was "unjustified and unjustifiable."

Emotion

A roar of triumph and sheer emotion made the hair stand up at the back of the neck.

As Mr Cameron apologised on behalf of his country, several amongst the crowd broke down, with one elderly man sobbing into his handkerchief.

However, the emotion turned to surprise and anger when Mr Cameron said Martin McGuinness had been amongst the protesters that day "probably armed with a submachine gun."

"F*** off," shouted someone in disgust.

"I'm over the moon," said Tony McCallion, nephew of victim John Duffy, as the family members emerged with arms aloft in triumph.

"This is an historic day for Derry," said Mickey McKinney, whose 27-year-old brother Willie died in the massacre.

A minute's silence was held for all those killed in the course of the Troubles. Then, one by one, the family members took the podium to declare the innocence of their loved ones.

"Thirty-five years, four months, 15 days, almost to the minute -- Kevin is innocent," proclaimed Jean Gegarty, Kevin McElhinny's sister.

Later, Teresa Rush, brother of Michael Kelly, described how the death of her 17-year-old brother affected her family.

"My mother was devastated. She was lost to us for 10 years. The older ones had to look after the younger ones," she whispered.

"We knew, we just knew he was innocent. We always did."

Irish Independent

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