Northern Ireland

Saville destroyed British state's Bloody Sunday narrative

The second inquiry into Bloody Sunday completely shattered the official British narrative that its soldiers were not at fault over the 1972 killings.

In April of that year, Britain’s most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Widgery published his report.

While he accepted that some of the soldiers’ shooting “bordered on the reckless”, he exonerated 1 Para from any blame. Criticising the organisers of the march, Widgery also claimed the soldiers only opened fire when they were first fired upon.

However, following one of the longest inquiries in British legal history, Lord Saville, with his fellow-judges, William Hoyt and John Toohey, completely overthrew Widgery’s rulings.

Where Widgery claimed some of the dead had been firing weapons or handling bombs, Saville completely exonerated all victims.

The judges said: “No-one threw or threatened to throw a nail bomb or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.”

The final Saville report also delivered a damning criticism of the soldiers present on the day.

It accused many of them of “knowingly” giving false accounts to “justify their firing”. The judges were critical of some senior army officers. They expressed surprise that Major General Robert Ford - commander of land forces in Northern Ireland – had suggested in a memorandum unrelated to Bloody Sunday that riot ringleaders should be shot.

Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, who led the regiment into the Bogside, was criticised for failing to obey his orders not to conduct a “running battle” but to arrest rioters.

“Our overall conclusion is that there was a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among soldiers of Support Company,” the judges said.

While shots were fired at the army by Official IRA members, the scale did not justify the shooting of civilians. Although the Saville judges refused to rule out the possibility that Gerald Donaghy, the youngest victim, had been armed with nail bomb, the said the 17-year-old did not do anything to justify his killing.

Still a cause of concern for the Bloody Sunday families, nail bombs were found in the teenager’s pockets when he was inspected at an army base on Bloody Sunday. This was despite doctors who treated him earlier testifying that there were no nail bombs.