The Senior Officers
During the course of this report we have dealt with a number of matters particularly concerning General Robert Ford, Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, Colonel Derek Wilford and Major Edward Charles Loden. In this part of the report we consider first some further aspects of the actions and movements of these officers on Bloody Sunday; and then in each case address the question of whether they bear any and if so what responsibility for the deaths and injuries on that day.
Assessment of the responsibility of Major General Ford 169.20
Assessment of the responsibility of Brigadier MacLellan 170.2
Assessment of the evidence of Lieutenant Colonel Wilford of his movements 171.30
Assessment of the responsibility of Lieutenant Colonel Wilford 171.37
Chapter 169: Major General Ford
169.1 Earlier in this report1 we considered the part that General Ford played in the preparations of the security forces for controlling the civil rights march. We also referred in our consideration of the events of Sector 12 to his presence at Barrier 14 when soldiers of C Company, 1 PARA went through that barrier and, when considering the question of automatic gunfire, the evidence he gave on that topic. Here we deal in the main with what General Ford did after 1 PARA had gone into the Bogside, before considering the question of his responsibility for what happened on Bloody Sunday.
169.2 On 31st January 1972 General Ford dictated a document entitled “My Movements in Londonderry on Sunday 30 January 1972 ”.1 This document provided timings for his various movements, though these were described as “approximate ”.
169.3 In this document General Ford described arriving by helicopter at Ebrington Barracks at about 1255 hours and then moving by Land Rover into the city where, among other things, he visited a number of Army barriers including Barrier 14. He went to the Observation Post (OP) at the Embassy Ballroom at about 1530 hours and then back to Barrier 14, where he observed some of the rioting at that barrier. His account continued:
“The mob, having been subjected to baton rounds and the water cannon and now seeing snatch squads of 1 PARA in readiness, began to break up Chamberlain St and William St. At about 1610 barrier 14 was lifted and Coy 1 PARA went in after the mob in a ‘sweep-up’ operation. I followed 1 PARA as far as just behind the junction of Chamberlain St/William St. It was at this stage that I heard shots fired from the direction of Rossville Flats. I returned at once to the OP on Embassy Ballroom but on my way met Lt-Col Ferguson CO 22 Lt AD Regt, and advised him that I thought it a good idea for him to return D Coy 1 PARA to under command 1 PARA. He agreed.
Arrived Embassy Ballroom. From my vantage point I was able to observe the following:
1. Chamberlain St: Approx 1 pln in fire positions at the end of Chamberlain St looking on to the Rossville Flats. The remainder of the company were rounding up people and leading them back to the waste ground on junction Chamberlain St/William St where they were searched and held.
2. Rossville St: Coy moving tactically into positions overlooking Glenfadda Flats and Rossville Flats. At the same time other troops were rounding suspects up in Rossville St and moving them to the waste ground at junction Little James St/William St where they were searched and held. I then spoke on the radio to HQ 8 Bde and asked if D Coy 1 PARA had been transferred to under command 1 PARA. This was confirmed.
Moved back down to Waterloo Place. I then had a quick word with D Coy Comd 1 PARA who at that stage was just returning to under command 1 PARA. After speaking to me he moved off up Sackville St. I moved into William St to the junction William St/Chamberlain St where I saw approx 20 of those arrested sitting on the ground awaiting transport to the holding centre.
I spoke to CO 1 PARA who confirmed my view that his troops had been fired upon first and had returned fire. At the same time I was apprehended by reporters from several newspapers and also by TV camera crews from the BBC and ITN. All of them accused the British Army of having fired indiscriminately and without provocation. In interviews with the BBC and ITN I denied this. I was also asked how many people had died as a result of the battle. At that time I only knew of two bodies that had been found. I also saw elements of RMP helping with the loading of suspects onto three tonners to be taken to the holding centres.
I decided to return to Bde HQ in order to speak with the Commander. On arrival at HQ 8 Bde I was informed that he, in fact, was visiting Tac HQ 22 Lt AD Regt. I returned to Victoria Barracks, met the Commander and we decided to return immediately to the HQ. On our return to HQ 8 Bde I discovered that the total dead had now risen to 11. ”
169.4 General Ford later prepared a written statement and then a supplementary written statement for the Widgery Inquiry.1 In these statements he gave a similar account of his movements and what he saw and heard after 1 PARA had gone into the Bogside. He gave oral evidence to the Widgery Inquiry.
169.5 In his oral evidence, General Ford described hearing high velocity fire as he approached the junction of William Street and Chamberlain Street, which caused him to return to the Embassy Ballroom OP. It was at this stage that, according to his account, he remarked to his aide-de-camp (ADC) that “That was awfully heavy firing ” or words to that effect, a remark overheard by a reporter. He told the Widgery Inquiry that it had taken him a little time to return to the Embassy Ballroom OP, because he walked and there was a delay in getting up in the lift to the OP; and that he got there at about 1620 hours.1 He also said that he went to this OP to see if he could see what was going on; and that he stayed there for about 15 minutes before going back to the corner of William Street and Chamberlain Street, where he met Colonel Wilford.2
169.6 General Ford told the Widgery Inquiry that when he spoke to television reporters after he had spoken (at about 1635 hours) to Colonel Wilford, the only information he had available to him was what Colonel Wilford had given him and it was this information that he gave to the reporters.1 On the following day, counsel for the Ministry of Defence at the Widgery Inquiry told that Inquiry that General Ford apologised for saying in his evidence that the information about two people being killed had come from Colonel Wilford and that the information had in fact come from his ADC.2
169.7 We set out below the transcript of the filmed interview of General Ford (RF) with John Bierman (JB) of the BBC on 30th January 1972:1
“RF The paratroopers did not go in there shooting … in fact they did not fire until they were fired upon and my information at the moment and it is very … almost immediately after the incident is that the para battalion fired 3 rounds all together after they had something between 10 and 20 fired at them from the area the Rosville Flats over there
JB They fired 3 rounds only
RF My information at the moment
JB I I believe there are more than 3 dead
RF That they fired 3
JB I certainly I have seen 3 dead myself
RF Well they may well not have been killed by our by our soldiers
JB Certainly not
JB Are you saying that the paras only opened fire because they were fired on first because the people in the bogside are saying that no shots were fired at the troops as they came in
RF Most certainly there’s absolutely no doubt at all … that er the parachute battalion did not open up until they’d been fired at you will remember that the aim of the operation in fact was an arrest operation
RF Against the hooligans who’d been attacking us as you saw
RF For probably a couple of hours
JB Well have any British troops been hit by gunfire
RF Yes as the parachutists went in … er acid bombs were dropped from the Rossville Flats and 2 of the parachutes were injured one I believe seriously … it was at this time in fact that the gunmen opened up from from the Rossville Flat area
JB 2 paras were hit by acid bombs have any British soldiers been hit by bullets
RF Not as far as I’m aware at this moment
JB Why was it necessary for the paras to take aggressive action at all and to go into the bogside instead of just snatching the people at the head of the procession who were causing the trouble
RF The aggressive action was taken because quite apart from the march and incidentally er I was watching the march and I saw the stewards stop it and indeed try to keep control throughout … unfortunately a hooligan element took over and they came down to our positions down here … and er started to attack the troops as you saw they attacked them with bricks stones … various other nasty implements and including of course a couple of canisters of CS gas … er this went on for some time and it was obviously necessary to to restore law and order ”
169.8 General Ford gave another interview on Bloody Sunday, parts of which were broadcast by BBC radio later that evening.1,2,3 In the course of this interview he said that as soon as the soldiers were the other side of the barriers they were attacked “not only by the hooligans but also by as I understand it at this moment half a dozen nail bombers and a petrol bomber and then seven gunmen opened up on them from the top of the flats ”. He was asked about this during his oral evidence to the Widgery Inquiry:4
“Q. In the period of your stay in the post no information had come to you either from the Sergeant there or anyone else to the effect that nail bombs had been thrown or that petrol bombs had been thrown, and during the time you were there you did not receive any information to suggest that gunmen, either one gunman or seven gunmen, had opened up from the top of the flats?
A. I was given no precise information at all. There was a lot of conversation going on on various radio nets.
Q. Indeed, you did not receive any information to suggest where the firing was coming from during the period you were in the post for 15 minutes or so?
A. I only had at that particular moment my own view which I had gathered earlier – which I mentioned, you remember – which was that the firing had come from the direction of the Rossville Flats.
Q. If we can go on to the next question from Mr. Fry: ‘But did they in fact, did the paratroopers in fact decide to attack the crowd before or after the snipers opened up?
FORD: No the first para took on the hooligans of course before the snipers opened up, and in fact it was only when the snipers … when the hooligans were put to flight that the snipers opened up at the top of Rossville flats.’
Again presumably that was on the basis of the information which had been supplied to you?
Q. By Colonel Wilford?
A. By Colonel Wilford. ”
2 It seems likely that this interview was given at about the same time as the one General Ford gave to John Bierman.
169.9 General Ford told the Widgery Inquiry that it was also Colonel Wilford who had told him about nail bombs.1
169.10 In the course of General Ford’s oral evidence to the Widgery Inquiry there was this exchange:1
“Q. May we take it then that after going to this corner of William Street and Chamberlain Street and hearing this firing you did not enquire at that point or investigate at that point where the firing was directed or where it was coming from?
A. I was not in command. Secondly, there was a great deal going on and the officers concerned were carrying out and giving their orders. It would have been quite improper for me to have interfered or to have asked for any information at that particular moment.
Q. What you are telling the Tribunal then is that in this situation where this certainly looked like a gun battle had started, you heard firing from the corner of those two streets and you turned your back on it and walked away, because it was not your business to enquire about it. Is that the situation?
A. I cannot accept that interpretation of my movements. ”
169.11 In 1984 General Ford gave an interview to the author Desmond Hamill. In the course of that interview he made the following remarks:1
“Incidentally I still believe what I said in the witness box – that 1 Para had to shoot. They honestly believed they were being shot at – and I do as well. They were in an area they didn’t know – and therefore there is always some room for errors and problems. But of course it was – at the time – a serious setback. No doubt about it. A setback for the Army’s reputation in the eyes of the public. Mind you, it quietened down Londonderry – for a hell of a long time. But that wasn’t really the most important thing. Much more important were the political implications and the world-wide effect. I was terribly saddened that thirteen people were killed. But unlike some other people I understood why thirteen were killed. In Belfast, in a similar situation, there wouldn’t have been any innocent people killed – they would all have been lying on the floor and out of sight. In Londonderry they weren’t used to being shot at at all – and I think probably a lot of innocent people were standing around. In Belfast if 1 Para was seen on the streets … 1 Para didn’t kill anyone in Belfast except the odd terrorist. They had only to be there and everyone went to ground. They were terrified. But they didn’t do that in Londonderry, they all stood up, as it were. 1 Para had a very difficult job.
So the operation wasn’t a success – it was a local success in that the amount of hooligan damage in the next month was almost nil. But that was really a very small reward for all the tremendous impact it had on the Army and everything else. ”
169.12 As we have already noted, General Ford gave written and oral evidence to this Inquiry. In his written statement to this Inquiry, General Ford commented on the evidence he gave at the Widgery Inquiry about his reasons for going to the Embassy Ballroom OP:1
“I was cross-examined in my evidence to the Widgery Tribunal about why I then went to the Embassy OP. There were four options open to me:
(i) I could have gone forward to join C Company. However, I had no information and I could well have walked into a firefight taking place from any direction and in any form. I probably would not have got to the right place anyway. In any case, the presence of a general in a firefight being conducted by either a platoon or even by a complete company would have been totally inappropriate and absolutely stupid.
(ii) I could have stayed where I was, but as I could see nothing and as C Company were not involved in the shooting, that did not seem to be the best course of action. I might have stood there for some considerable time, totally in ignorance of events.
(iii) I could have gone back to my Land Rover and listened in to the radio traffic. It would have taken the same time that it took me to go to the Embassy OP, which is the option I adopted and which I describe at (iv) below. I knew, however, from experience that the initial reports transmitted over the radio within a minute or so of a firefight are frequently incomplete and therefore rarely give an accurate overview. When soldiers are fired on, the immediate commander has a great deal more to do than to send reports back over his radio. The report that is transmitted may well be that of the Commander’s radio operator, a private soldier, situated just behind him, whose first impression of what has happened is often inaccurate. The best radio sitrep is given when the action has settled down. All my experience has led me never to set too much store by the first reports that are received.
(iv) I could have gone, as in fact I did, to the Embassy OP from where I hoped I could see what was going on.
Option (iv) was an easy decision to make and I still believe the right one. It meant going back a few yards, then turning north, walking back into the OP, getting into the lift, going up to the top and then having a view from there using binoculars. I think I can recall seeing that more than one company of 1 PARA had been deployed. There was, inevitably, a period while I was in the lift when I could not hear what was going on. I believe there was also a delay of about a couple of minutes before getting into the lift at the Embassy Ballroom, although I can’t now remember the reason for it. I cannot now recall any discussions in a back room at the Embassy Ballroom, or what they would have been about. I cannot now be sure whether or not I listened to the radio net.
From the moment that I went out on to the balcony at the front of the OP I heard no further firing. I do not now have any mental picture of what I could see from the top from this position. ”
169.13 In his oral evidence to this Inquiry, General Ford told us that he had no recollection at all of anything on Bloody Sunday. “Everything I put in my statement has been taken from documents or from my previous statements. ”1 He made the same point when asked about the document in which he had recorded his movements on the day, to which we have referred above.2
169.14 When General Ford was asked if he knew why the information about what had happened that he was initially given when he had returned from the Embassy Ballroom OP was “so wildly out ”, he gave this response:1
“I do not know why, but I can only say this: from my own experience of firefights – and this, as I understand it, was in a very short period – you very rarely get the picture right on the spot. And I have taken part in a number of firefights, may I say. There is always confusion and, even immediately afterwards, there are differences of opinion as to what actually happened. And I could quote one or two famous examples if you so wished. ”
169.15 In the course of his oral evidence, General Ford’s attention was drawn to the transcript of a tapped telephone conversation between two officers on the evening of Bloody Sunday.1 We have drawn attention to this transcript when discussing the Army communications on Bloody Sunday elsewhere in this report,2 as an example of the lack of security of the standard means of communications:
“MS McDERMOTT: Might X2.25.6 be put up on the screen, please. This is a transcript, General Ford, of a conversation which Counsel for the Tribunal has described as being a conversation between two Army officers, I believe that reference is at Day 48. If I may ask you to go to the bottom of it to put it in context:
‘Male voice: Look, there has obviously been a hell of a sort out ... the whole things in chaos ... yeah obviously I think it has gone badly wrong in the Rossville ... the doctors just been up the hospital and they are pulling stiffs out there as fast as they can get them out.
‘Male voice: There is nothing wrong with that.
‘Male voice: Well there is because they are the wrong people ... there is about 9 and 15 killed by the Parachute Regiment in the Rossville area they are all women, children, fuck knows what and they are still going up there ... I mean their Pigs are just full of bodies ... there is a 3 tonner up there with bodies in.
‘Male voice: ... Stiffs all over the place and solider [sic] 028.
‘Male voice: Soldier 028 involved is he.’
If I bring you down a couple of lines:
‘Male voice: The padre is a bit upset. He is going off to see the commander about all the ill treatment.
‘Male voice: General Ford.
‘Male voice: Yes.
‘Male voice: He was lapping it up.
‘Male voice: Who was?
‘Male voice: Ford.
‘Male voice: Was he.
‘Male voice: Yeah ... he said it was the best thing he had seen for a long time.
‘Male voice: Interesting, is it not.
‘Male voice: Well done, 1st Para, he said, a look at them ... 24 ... million dollar.
‘Male voice: Good, excellent.
‘Male voice: He said this is what should happen.
‘Male voice: Yeah.
‘Male voice: He said we are far too passive ... and I will tell you later.
‘Male voice: Yeah, okay.’
Were you lapping it up?
A. I was not.
Q. Do you have any comment to make about anything else that appears in that?
A. That appears to me, that appears to me to be a conversation between, is it two unknown soldiers?
A. Of the Army, we do not know who they are and they are talking – well, quite honestly there is no truth in what they said at all. It is highly emotional and exaggerated. ”
169.16 We have no reason to doubt General Ford’s evidence of his movements after he had seen soldiers of C Company, 1 PARA go through Barrier 14 in William Street. His 1972 accounts of his movements give 1620 hours as the approximate time he arrived at the Embassy Ballroom OP. His description of what he saw from there supports this timing, with soldiers from C Company at the southern end of Chamberlain Street, arrestees being brought back and the soldiers moving into tactical positions, ie moving to the north end of Block 1 of the Rossville Flats, as we have described in the course of considering the events of the day.
169.17 We accept General Ford’s reasons for returning to the Embassy Ballroom OP after hearing gunfire. To our minds it would have been inappropriate for him either to have gone further forward or to seek to discover from soldiers on the ground what was going on. He was right to regard himself as an observer,1 since the operation as a whole was under the command of Brigadier MacLellan. He was also right, for the reasons that he gave to us, in not seeking to discover from the radio what was going on. There was little radio information about what was going on and some of what was reported was significantly inaccurate.
1 As appears from his 1972 accounts of his movements, General Ford did suggest that D Company should be returned from 22 Lt AD Regt to the command of 1 PARA, but in the context of what was happening, this in our view was of little significance.
169.18 There is no doubt that immediately after the shooting General Ford was given what was correctly described as a “wildly ”1 inaccurate description of what had happened, though his account of being told that the soldiers had fired three times probably arose from him misunderstanding Colonel Wilford, whose evidence was that he had told General Ford that his soldiers had fired on three occasions. The first impressions that he must have gained at this stage and during at least the early part of the evening were that there had been an encounter between soldiers of 1 PARA and republican paramilitaries, in which the latter had suffered significant casualties; and that a significant number of rioters had been arrested.
169.19 Although he denied it was the case, it seems to us that at this stage and in the belief that 1 PARA had fought a successful engagement with paramilitaries, General Ford might well have felt pleased with what had happened. His remarks years later to Desmond Hamill in our view reflected his thoughts when he had come to learn something of what had really taken place.
Assessment of the responsibility of Major General Ford
169.20 We accept General Ford’s denial, both to the Widgery Inquiry and to this Inquiry, that the Army plan for 30th January 1972 was to cause a confrontation with the IRA.1 In our view there was no such plan. 1 PARA soldiers went into the Bogside, as we have described earlier in this report,2 as a result of the failure of Colonel Wilford to comply with the orders given by Brigadier MacLellan regarding the limits of the arrest operation. Colonel Wilford himself had decided to send Support Company into the Bogside in vehicles only a few minutes before he gave his orders; and Lieutenant N and Sergeant O, who led the vehicles in, understood that their task was to disperse what they described as rioters, arresting some in the process if they were able to do so. We have found no evidence at all that suggests to us that anything that occurred before or after the soldiers had gone in was the result of some plan to bring out and engage paramilitaries. We also accept General Ford’s evidence that his plans for an arrest operation arose from his perception that there was an opportunity, by seeking to arrest a significant number of hooligans, to deal “a significant blow ” to the “Derry Young Hooligans ”, required because their activities were destroying the city’s commercial centre.3
169.21 In the light of the situation that obtained in Londonderry in early 1972 (which we discuss in detail in earlier parts of this report1), 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, as being 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 fire lethal weapons without justification. We have concluded that General Ford had no reason to believe and did not believe that there was such a risk of soldiers of 1 PARA firing unjustifiably that it was inappropriate for that reason to use them for an arrest operation.
169.22 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 formulated a plan to use a large force in an arrest operation as the means of seeking to deal with rioters.
169.23 While the decision to prepare for an arrest operation was his, General Ford did not himself play any role in ordering the arrest operation to be launched or in the form either in which Brigade ordered it or which it actually took. Though he cheered on the soldiers of C Company as they advanced through Barrier 14 (for which we do not criticise him), he correctly in our view did not seek to interfere with or to influence what then happened, since the decision to launch an arrest operation and the form which it was to take were matters for Brigadier MacLellan.
169.24 General Ford bears the responsibility for deciding that in the likely event of rioting 8th Infantry Brigade should employ 1 PARA as an arrest force on 30th January 1972. But in our view he neither knew nor should have known at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on Bloody Sunday.
169.25 At this point we should note that it was submitted that there were a number of factors about Bloody Sunday which should have led not merely Brigadier MacLellan but also his superior officers, Generals Ford and Tuzo, and the “political masters in Whitehall and Westminster ” to take steps to modify the Yellow Card by imposing additional restrictions on the circumstances in which lethal force could be used and to “Make it expressly clear to the paratroopers that, whether they came under hostile fire on entering the Bogside or whether they believed they were under hostile fire, they ought to disengage rather than return fire in a crowd situation ”; and that the failure to modify the Yellow Card or issue such directions was a clear breach of the obligation of all involved to ensure that the operation was conducted in such a manner as to minimise to the greatest extent possible the risk to life.1 It was further submitted that “The failure to address the risks to civilian life of the use of lethal force by soldiers in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday contributed directly to the loss of 13 lives and the serious injury of 13 more ”.2
169.26 The difficulty with these submissions is that they assume that what happened on Bloody Sunday was something that those accused of failing to take these steps knew or should have known beforehand was likely to happen; and for that reason should have taken the steps suggested. Such an assumption is in our view unwarranted. Neither General Tuzo nor General Ford, nor those in London knew or could have known in advance that in breach of his orders Colonel Wilford would send his soldiers into the Bogside and into the crowd of people there. Whether Brigadier MacLellan should have taken any such steps is a matter we consider below.