Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cameron sorry for Families' relief at UK apology after wait of 38 years

DERRY reacted with a mixture of relief and delight yesterday when the innocence of the dead of Bloody Sunday was formally proclaimed by the Saville Inquiry and David Cameron.

After a wait of 38 years, the sense was in the air that a long-standing injustice had been put right and a major step taken along a long road towards truth and reconciliation.

Nationalists and republicans hailed the report's unequivocal conclusions as a hugely important step along the long road to truth. There was also a welcome for David Cameron's statement in the House of Commons that: "On behalf of the government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry."

The Saville Report overturned the assertions of the original report into Bloody Sunday, delivered by Lord Widgery in 1972, that some of those shot by paratroopers had been terrorist bombers and gunmen.

Relatives have long regarded his characterisations as a standing affront.

Widgery's findings that Paras had been justified in killing and wounding 27 men and youths were flatly contradicted by Saville, who said none of the casualties had guns.

In findings which Mr Cameron described as shocking, the judge said soldiers in one Para company had lost their self-control, "forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and with a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline".

Taoiseach Brian Cowen declared: "Today is the day when the truth has been set free in the city of Derry. This is not about the reopening of old wounds, but rather it is about the healing of the gaping wounds of injustice left behind by the terrible events of Bloody Sunday."

He commended "the brave and honest words of David Cameron" which, he said, would echo around the world.

In an at times shockingly blunt analysis, Saville concluded that many of the soldiers had put forward false accounts to seek to justify their firing.

In other findings, the judge endorsed the long-standing claims of eyewitnesses that some of those shot were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

He found that one person had been shot while crawling away from the soldiers, while another had probably been shot as he lay mortally wounded on the ground. The report refers to a father who was injured by army gunfire after going to the aid of his son.

Saville, in essence, reached exactly the opposite conclusions to those of Widgery. He largely accepted the versions of marchers and other non-military eyewitnesses and rejected the claims of soldiers that they they had been reacting to attack by bombers and gunmen.

One local claim he refused to accept, however, was that of Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, who admitted at hearings that he had been second-in-command of the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

In a passage which Mr McGuinness will have found most unwelcome, Saville did not accept his claim that he had been present but unarmed, saying he probably had a Thompson sub-machinegun, which he had possibly fired before soldiers moved in.

The judge added, however, that he was sure the politician had not engaged in any activity that provided soldiers with justification for opening fire.

Asked last night if he had carried a sub-machinegun, Mr McGuinness replied: "No."

He added that the Saville report "fully pointed the finger of blame for what happened directly at the British Parachute Regiment".

Decisions on whether to prosecute soldiers -- or indeed Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister -- have yet to be taken. Those giving evidence at the inquiry had immunity against self-incrimination, but it is possible for evidence given by others to be used against them.

Last night, the the North's DPP, Sir Alasdair Fraser, said it was not practical to say when such decisions would be taken but they would be considered "as expeditiously as possible." He is to have talks with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

Opinion among Bloody Sunday relatives seems divided, with some insisting that charges of murder should be brought against troops.

SOME may feel that the declarations of innocence are the most important thing for their long campaign, while others may seek to press ahead along legal routes.

Unionist opinion, which has never approved of the inquiry, yesterday criticised the costs of the investigation -- almost £200m (€240m).

Gregory Campbell, Democratic Unionist MP for East Londonderry, said: "People will be glad that that this sorry saga of a report is finally over.

"I want to place on record our thanks and appreciation to the entire army for the role it played in defeating terrorism and bringing peace and stability to Northern Ireland."

General Sir Mike Jackson, who was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday and later went on to become chief of the general staff, said: "The prime minister made a fulsome apology and I join him in so doing."

Commenting from Derry, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "Today is a day for the families of those killed and those injured on Bloody Sunday."

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said he hoped the report would give relief to the families who lost loved ones and might help the families put the past behind them and move on.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was found by the report to have been shot by soldiers without justification, made an emotional address to the crowd that recalled the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"We have overcome," he declared, prompting cheers from the throng.

He said the report had vindicated the families and that it would now be the verdict of history for all time.

Irish Independent

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