Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bloody money

Despite all it's troubles, the Government found time this week to write to me and let me have advance information as to it's plans. "Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, announced the publication date in a written statement to the House of Commons.
He also confirmed that relatives of those killed by the Army and the soldiers themselves, as well as some politicians, would see the report in advance of full publication."

The Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday will hit the streets very soon after 12 years of work. At a cost of almost £200 million we will all know what happened on that Sunday at the end of January 1972. I think I can last out the excitement that generates - I have known since the evening of Bloody Sunday. I was in Londonderry almost by accident. After some nine months in charge of the Army investigation Unit my bosses in London had finally found an officer who had committed some crime so heinous that the only punishment was to send him to Ulster. As part of his indoctrination, I took him to Londonderry to witness the protest march. This would be an opportunity to get close to a Northern Ireland riot which was many degrees more violent than a pub punch up after closing time.

As we went about the sites on the tourist trail, I saw many of the Parachute regiment who normally worked in Belfast and who were regular customers of mine. In chatting, I was told that they were there to inject a little backbone into dealing with any trouble that arose from hangers-on to the peace march splitting off and attacking the troops. So, New Bloke would get two lessons at the one time.

As the march got to near the usual flash-point, we two placed ourselves behind a company of Para who in turn were behind troops from the resident Londonderry battalion. The trouble kicked off when juveniles started to stone the foremost troops. They were then told to stand aside and release the paratroopers. They ran in on foot supported by a number of armoured vehicles referred to as pigs. They ran, we walked up behind them. However, almost immediately I heard the sound of a weapon being fired; just a single shot. I instructed that we should get offside and we left the area and made our way to an observation and command post overlooking that area of the Bogside. We heard further firing but it was difficult to locate the shooter(s) or identify the type of weapon because of the echo effects of the built-up area. In a short while we heard radio reports that a number of civilians had been shot and after about 30 minutes the score was up to 13 dead.

My new OC said he would take a back seat as he had no real idea as to what my unit did in such incidents. I used the radio in my car to summon back-up investigators from Belfast. We set up base in a RN centre where the Para had been accommodated prior to being deployed onto the streets. We commenced interviews - they all knew the procedure almost as well as I did.

By about 10 pm that night it was clear that there had been a serious breakdown in the way such operations were normally handled. By midnight, we had statements from all who had fired and from others who were able to add to that information. I went back to Belfast in the early hours and briefed HQ NI using the statements taken by that time. I had a unbreakable appointment in London and went off to that. By the time I got back, a special team had been set up to deal with the incident.

I never understood the demands for a public inquiry. The first one had many obvious faults. John Major had made a public statement that none of the deceased had been acting improperly. This did not quell the demands and, eventually, the nasty little toad Blair agreed to set up a tribunal as part of the cost of getting what he called a peaceful settlement. Strangely, the loved ones of all the non-combatants slaughtered by the terrorists of both factions were denied any such process. Indeed, all the IRA murderers we had managed to catch and convict were set free and given forms on which to claim damages.

At that time, Northern Ireland was a land of almost instant mythology. One side would make claims as to what happened. Their supporters would take this on board and it became a fact that was incapable of being overturned. The opponents would for ever hold that what had been said was the vilest and most black of lies. That this had happened with the events of Bloody Sunday became very clear in the preparation of evidence for the inquiry and when formal evidence was taken.

When counsel for the victims questioned me, they put their questions as if they were merely seeking confirmation of their established convictions and were not really questioning events. Lord Saville and his two colleagues were most effective in getting the right questions put; I'm not so sure about the quality of the answers.

So, nothing will be achieved. Those who signed up for the mythology will not have their narrow minds expanded, Someone will pontificate and make an apology based upon Saville. There is a strong rumour that Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland who was a Provisional IRA commander in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, told Blair that an apology would have sufficed. But no - heritage beckoned and we went into a process which was most likely the forerunner of Blair's disastrous decision to do his poodle trot over Iraq.

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