Chapter 4: The question of responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday
The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments and the Army 4.2
Major General Ford 4.8
Brigadier MacLellan 4.13
Lieutenant Colonel Wilford 4.15
Major Loden 4.26
Lieutenant N 4.30
Lieutenant 119 4.31
Captain 200 and Sergeant INQ 441 4.32
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association 4.33
4.1 The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries. The question remains, however, as to whether others also bear direct or indirect responsibility for what happened.
The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments and the Army
4.2 During the course of the Inquiry, allegations were made by some of those representing the families of those who died on Bloody Sunday and those wounded, that the politicians in both the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments, as well as the military authorities, had planned not simply to stop the civil rights march and to mount an arrest operation against rioters as set out in the orders for Operation Forecast (the operation to contain the march and deal with any rioting), but rather to use 1 PARA for the purpose of carrying out some action, which they knew would involve the deliberate use of unwarranted lethal force or which they sanctioned with reckless disregard as to whether such force was used. On this basis it was submitted that the civil and military authorities bore responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday.
4.3 These allegations were based on one of two propositions, either that what happened on Bloody Sunday was intended and planned by the authorities, or that it was foreseen by the authorities as likely to happen. We are of the view that neither of these propositions can be sustained.
4.4 In order to consider these allegations we looked in detail at what the authorities were planning and doing in the weeks and months preceding Bloody Sunday; as well as what happened on Bloody Sunday before soldiers were sent into the Bogside. We found no evidence to substantiate these allegations. So far as the United Kingdom Government was concerned, what the evidence did establish was that in the months before Bloody Sunday, genuine and serious attempts were being made at the highest level to work towards a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland. Any action involving the use or likely use of unwarranted lethal force against nationalists on the occasion of the march (or otherwise) would have been entirely counterproductive to the plans for a peaceful settlement; and was neither contemplated nor foreseen by the United Kingdom Government. So far as the Northern Ireland Government was concerned, although it had been pressing the United Kingdom Government and the Army to step up their efforts to counter republican paramilitaries and to deal with banned marches, we found no evidence that suggested to us that it advocated the use of unwarranted lethal force or was indifferent to its use on the occasion of the march.
4.5 It was also submitted that in dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland generally, the authorities (the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments and the Army) tolerated if not encouraged the use of unjustified lethal force; and that this was the cause or a contributory cause of what happened on Bloody Sunday. We found no evidence of such toleration or encouragement.
4.6 There was a further submission to the effect that it was critical to an understanding of why lethal force was used by the Army against unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday, to appreciate that by this time the role of the police in security matters had been eroded and that the Army had illegally taken control over the policing of security situations from the police. Though by the period in question the situation was such that the RUC had neither the manpower nor the resources to deal effectively with all security issues and was in many cases dependent upon the military, we do not accept that the Army had illegally taken over control of security from the police. The Army and the police worked together in deciding how to deal with matters of security.
4.7 As to the actions of the soldiers themselves, it was submitted that those who fired did so because of a “culture” that had grown up among soldiers at the time in Northern Ireland, to the effect that they could fire with impunity, secure in the knowledge that the arrangements then in force (arrangements later criticised by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland) meant that their actions would not be investigated by the RUC, but by the Royal Military Police (the Army’s own police force), who would be sympathetic to the soldiers and who would not conduct a proper investigation. In support of this submission it was alleged that before Bloody Sunday there were many previous unjustified shooting incidents by soldiers in Northern Ireland. As we pointed out in the course of the Inquiry, it was simply not possible to take this submission of an established “culture” forward, for this could only be done by examining in the same detail as Bloody Sunday the circumstances of each of those incidents, in order to decide, among other things, whether or not they involved unjustified firing by soldiers. In our view this would have been a wholly impracticable course for us to take, adding immeasurably to what was already a very long and complex inquiry. In these circumstances, we are not in a position to express a view either as to whether or not such a culture existed among soldiers before Bloody Sunday or, if it did, whether it had any influence on those who fired unjustifiably on that day.
Major General Ford
4.8 In the light of the situation that obtained in Londonderry in early 1972 (which we discuss in detail in this report), we do not criticise General Ford for deciding to deploy soldiers to arrest rioters, though in our view his decision to use 1 PARA as the arrest force is open to criticism, on the ground that 1 PARA was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence, which thus ran the risk of exacerbating the tensions between the Army and nationalists in Londonderry. However, there is to our minds a significant difference between the risk of soldiers using excessive physical violence when dispersing crowds or trying to arrest rioters and the risk that they would use lethal weapons without justification. We have concluded that General Ford had no reason to believe and did not believe that the risk of soldiers of 1 PARA firing unjustifiably during the course of an arrest operation was such that it was inappropriate for that reason for him to use them for such an operation.
4.9 General Ford denied, both to the Widgery Inquiry and to the present Inquiry, that the Army plan for 30th January 1972 was to cause a confrontation with the IRA, Official, Provisional or both. We accept his denial. We are sure that there was no such plan.
4.10 As to General Ford’s memorandum, where he suggested shooting selected ringleaders of rioters after warning, we are surprised that an officer of his seniority should seriously consider that this was something that could be done, notwithstanding that he acknowledged that to take this course would require authorisation from above. We are sure, for the reasons given in the report, that this idea was not adopted and that the shootings on Bloody Sunday were not the result of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders. In the event General Ford decided to use an additional battalion (1 PARA) as the means of seeking to deal with rioters. We found no evidence to suggest that the use of lethal force against unarmed rioters, who were not posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, was contemplated by General Ford or those senior to him as a possible means of dealing with any rioting that might accompany the then forthcoming civil rights march.
4.11 General Ford did not himself play any role in ordering the arrest operation to be launched or in determining the form either in which Brigade ordered it or which it actually took. He did not seek to interfere with or to influence what happened to any significant extent and was right not to do so, since the decision whether to launch an arrest operation and the form that it was to take were matters for Brigadier MacLellan.
4.12 General Ford was responsible for deciding that in the likely event of rioting, Brigade should employ 1 PARA as an arrest force on 30th January 1972. But he neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day.
4.13 As we have noted above, the power to order an arrest operation did not rest with General Ford, but with Brigadier MacLellan. We do not criticise Brigadier MacLellan for giving such an order. As we have pointed out, he did not do so until he was reasonably satisfied that there was sufficient separation between rioters and peaceful marchers to sanction the limited arrest operation that had been initially suggested by Colonel Wilford. Had Colonel Wilford informed him that the situation had changed and that as the commander of the arrest force he now considered that it was necessary to order an additional company to go in vehicles along Rossville Street in order to arrest rioters, Brigadier MacLellan might well have abandoned the arrest operation altogether, on the ground that such an operation would not allow sufficient separation between marchers and rioters. Brigadier MacLellan had no reason to believe and did not believe that the limited arrest operation he ordered ran the risk of deaths or injuries from unjustifiable firing by soldiers.
4.14 We should add at this point that in our view Brigadier MacLellan cannot fairly be criticised either for not imposing additional restrictions on when soldiers could open fire, over and above those in the Yellow Card; or for failing to order soldiers engaged in an arrest operation to disengage rather than respond if they were or believed that they were under attack from republican paramilitaries, so as to minimise the risk that innocent civilians would be killed or injured. In his case suggestions to the contrary incorrectly assume that he bears responsibility for sending soldiers into the Bogside. The arrest operation Brigadier MacLellan ordered was limited in scope and would not have involved soldiers going into the Bogside to any or any significant extent; and in our view the risk to civilians from such an operation did not call for any such special restrictions or special orders. We have concluded that Brigadier MacLellan does not bear any responsibility for the deaths and injuries from the unjustifiable firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday.
Lieutenant Colonel Wilford
4.15 What did happen was not what Colonel Wilford had initially suggested and Brigadier MacLellan had then ordered. Colonel Wilford should have ordered his soldiers to stay in and around William Street and the northern end of Rossville Street. Instead, he sent them into the Bogside, where they chased people down Rossville Street, into the car park of the Rossville Flats, into Glenfada Park North and as far as Abbey Park.
4.16 In our view Colonel Wilford decided to send Support Company into the Bogside because at the time he gave the order he had concluded (without informing Brigadier MacLellan) that there was now no prospect of making any or any significant arrests in the area he had originally suggested, as the rioting was dying down and people were moving away. In addition it appears to us that he wanted to demonstrate that the way to deal with rioters in Londonderry was not for soldiers to shelter behind barricades like (as he put it) “Aunt Sallies” while being stoned, as he perceived the local troops had been doing, but instead to go aggressively after rioters, as he and his soldiers had been doing in Belfast.
4.17 What Colonel Wilford failed to appreciate, or regarded as of little consequence, was that his soldiers, who had not been in a position to observe the rioting that had been going on at the Army barriers, would almost certainly be unable to identify anyone as a rioter, save where, when they arrived, they were met by people who were rioting at that time.
4.18 Colonel Wilford failed to inform Brigade that in his view the situation had changed and that the only prospect of making any arrests was to send his soldiers in vehicles into the Bogside. He then failed to obey the order that Brigadier MacLellan gave, which prohibited any such movement. He thus created a situation in which soldiers chased people down Rossville Street and beyond, in circumstances where it was not possible to distinguish between those who had merely been marching and those who had been rioting. His failure to comply with his orders, instead setting in train the very thing his Brigadier had prohibited him from doing, cannot be justified.
4.19 In our view Colonel Wilford can also be criticised on another ground. He sent his soldiers into an area which he regarded as dangerous and which he had told his soldiers was dangerous; an area which his soldiers did not know and where they might come under lethal attack from republican paramilitaries, who dominated that part of the city. He knew that his soldiers would accordingly be very much on their guard, ready to respond instantly with gunfire at identified targets, as they were trained to respond, if they did come under such attack. He knew that his soldiers would not withdraw if they came under lethal attack but were trained not just to take cover, but instead to move forward and, as he himself put it, seek out the “enemy ”.
4.20 In these circumstances, on his own estimation of the danger of lethal attacks by republican paramilitaries, Colonel Wilford must have appreciated that there was a significant risk that sending his soldiers into the Bogside on an arrest operation could lead to an armed engagement with republican paramilitaries. He should have appreciated that if this did happen, then there was also, in view of the numbers of people around, a significant risk that people other than soldiers’ justifiable targets would be killed or injured, albeit by accident, from Army gunfire. To our minds this was another reason why Colonel Wilford should not have launched an incursion into the Bogside.
4.21 The fact that what in the event happened on Bloody Sunday when the soldiers entered the Bogside was not a justifiable response to a lethal attack by republican paramilitaries, but instead soldiers opening fire unjustifiably, cannot provide an answer to this criticism, which is based not on what happened, but what at the time Colonel Wilford thought might happen.
4.22 We have found nothing that suggests to us that Colonel Wilford can be blamed for the incident in which soldiers fired from the derelict building in William Street and injured Damien Donaghey and John Johnston. However, the question remains as to whether he realised, or should have realised, that the risk of unjustifiable firing by soldiers if he sent them into the Bogside was such that for this reason he should not have ordered them to go in.
4.23 As one of the officers (given the cipher Captain 128), who was a member of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets and was present on the day, told us, when a soldier hears shots and believes that he is under fire, his automatic reaction is to fire himself, which is a difficult reaction to stop; and when firing breaks out in a tense situation it can spread very quickly and is very difficult to control. It could thus be said that Colonel Wilford should have appreciated that by sending soldiers into an unfamiliar area, which they had been told was and which they perceived to be a dangerous area, there was a risk that they might mistakenly believe that they had come under attack from republican paramilitaries and in that belief open fire without being satisfied that they had identified people who were posing a threat of causing death or serious injury; and that because of that risk, he should not have sent soldiers into the Bogside. In the end, however, we consider that on this specific ground Colonel Wilford cannot fairly be criticised for giving the orders he did. We take the view that Colonel Wilford cannot be blamed for failing to foresee that the risk of his soldiers firing unjustifiably was such that he should not have given the orders he did.
4.24 In summary, therefore, in our view Colonel Wilford should not have sent soldiers of Support Company into the Bogside for the following reasons:
- because in doing so he disobeyed the orders given by Brigadier MacLellan;
- because his soldiers, whose job was to arrest rioters, would have no or virtually no means of identifying those who had been rioting from those who had simply been taking part in the civil rights march; and
- because he should not have sent his soldiers into an unfamiliar area which he and they regarded as a dangerous area, where the soldiers might come under attack from republican paramilitaries, in circumstances where the soldiers’ response would run a significant risk that people other than those engaging the soldiers with lethal force would be killed or injured by Army gunfire.
4.25 There remains the suggestion that Colonel Wilford’s soldiers should have been instructed that in order to minimise the risk to innocent people, if on going into the Bogside they came under attack from paramilitaries, or believed that this had happened, they should disengage and withdraw rather than return fire. In our view this is a hypothetical question, since for the first two of the reasons we have given above Colonel Wilford should not have sent soldiers into the Bogside, with or without special instructions.
4.26 Those representing the families of the deceased and the wounded criticised Major Loden, the Commander of Support Company, on the ground that he failed to exercise any proper control over his soldiers or their firing.
4.27 In our view, events moved so fast after the soldiers had disembarked in the Bogside that Major Loden had no idea what was actually going on; he assumed that his soldiers had come under attack from republican paramilitaries and were responding. It could be said that another officer in Major Loden’s position might have appreciated earlier that, in view of the amount of Army gunfire, something seemed to be going seriously wrong; republican paramilitaries were not known to take on troops in force, but usually sniped at individuals from positions of cover. In consequence such an officer might have made greater efforts to control the situation.
4.28 Major Loden was surprised by the amount of firing. However, he did not initially appreciate that something was wrong and did not order a ceasefire or give any other instructions to his soldiers until after all the casualties had been sustained. We consider that it was not unreasonable for him initially to believe, as he did, that his soldiers, by going into an area dominated by paramilitaries, had for once encountered paramilitary resistance in strength, to which they were responding. We accept his evidence that in this belief, it was not for him to control or stop his soldiers’ firing, but to leave this to the platoon and section commanders. We also accept, for the reasons he gave, that he could not see the targets that his soldiers were engaging and thus could not tell whether or not the firing was unjustified.
4.29 In our view, at the time the casualties were being sustained, Major Loden neither realised nor should have realised that his soldiers were or might be firing at people who were not posing or about to pose a threat of causing death or serious injury. However, we consider that at the time when he did tell his soldiers not to fire back unless they had identified positive targets, he probably did realise that the firing that was taking place then was, or might be, unjustified. By this stage all the casualties had been sustained and there had been a pause in the firing.
4.30 Lieutenant N, the Commander of Mortar Platoon, failed to appreciate, as he should have done, that firing unjustified shots over the heads of people in the alleyway leading into Chamberlain Street was likely to lead other soldiers mistakenly to believe, as some probably did, that Support Company was at that time coming under attack or the threat of attack from republican paramilitaries. As we have said, he was probably responsible for shooting Michael Bridge. However, we take the view that there was in the circumstances (and bearing particularly in mind the speed of events) nothing (apart from refraining from firing his unjustified shots over the heads of people) that he could or should have done to avert the shooting by other members of his platoon. We are not persuaded that he should have realised at the time that his soldiers were firing unjustifiably.
4.31 Lieutenant 119 was the Commander of Anti-Tank Platoon. We criticise this officer for allowing four members of his platoon to go into Glenfada Park North, out of his sight and control. Before this happened he appears to have been labouring under the mistaken belief that his soldiers at the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp were responding to paramilitary attacks. We are not persuaded that he should have realised that these soldiers were firing unjustifiably.
Captain 200 and Sergeant INQ 441
4.32 Captain 200 was the Commander of Composite Platoon. There is nothing to suggest that he, or Sergeant INQ 441, the Commander of Machine Gun Platoon, was responsible for any of the unjustifiable firing by his soldiers.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association
4.33 In our view the organisers of the civil rights march bear no responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday. Although those who organised the march must have realised that there was probably going to be trouble from rioters, they had no reason to believe and did not believe that this was likely to result in death or injury from unjustified firing by soldiers.