30 January 2006

2006: A defining year for Bloody Sunday justice


BY Eamonn Houston IN DERRY

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The year 2006 – 34 years after British paratroopers killed 13 innocent civilians on the Streets of Derry – is loaded with expectation and some degree of apprehension for the families of the Bloody Sunday dead and those injured on January 30, 1972.
Click to view image from Troops Out Movement

This year, Lord Saville of Newdigate will publish the findings of the second inquiry into the events of that day and the biggest Tribunal of Inquiry set up in British legal history.

For 34 years the families have marched, as they did again yesterday, with tens of thousands of supporters. Their message has been consistently simple – they have always craved nothing less than the truth about why their loved ones were killed by British soldiers at the close of a civil rights demonstration.

The families and the people of Derry have always known the truth. It was murder on a scale that has often been cited as the main primer of what became known as the Troubles.

As the families of the dead stand on the cusp of a defining year in their justice campaign, they are both hopeful and determined. Nothing less than a full statement of innocence and a declaration that British troops murdered their loved ones will be accepted. The families also expect Lord Saville to indicate the involvement of the British government in what happened on the day.

Saville has a heavy burden. To deliver a report that has weighed the evidence of around 2,500 people, 921 of whom appeared on the witness stand, is a task in itself. To get as near to the truth of what happened on the day 34 years later is a massive undertaking.

The marathon inquiry, which sat in Derry's Guildhall and in Methodist Hall, Westminster, has also taken its toll on the families of the Bloody Sunday dead. It was often hard for them to bear the sight of military witnesses continuing to stick to stories that were blatantly flawed, if not completely fabricated.

To see some of the former ‘elite' troops of the Parachute Regiment in the flesh was a traumatic experience.

As they marched again yesterday, on a bright, frosty and sunny day reminiscent of the weather conditions on January 30, 1972, the families and the people of Derry who have sustained their justice campaign down the years were more determined than ever that the civilians killed on Bloody Sunday should have their innocence emphatically affirmed and the fact that they were murdered stated in the clearest possible terms.

“If not we'll march for another 30 years," said John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead at a makeshift barricade on Rossville Street.

His brother's killer, known only to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry by the cypher Soldier F, sat passively in the witness stand as he was cross-examined. ‘F' spoke matter-of-factly and appeared devoid of emotion displaying all of the bearing of a regimental school teacher. On the other hand, the Bloody Sunday families were consumed with emotion. It would be a defining moment in their justice campaign.

But they were safe in the knowledge that their people, and people worldwide, were aware that these soldiers had committed a crime against innocence.

So big was their crime that the Parachute Regiment has virtually written the actions of its first battalion on the streets of Derry out of their history.
In recent times, the families underwent further trauma on the back of the now dumped ‘On the Run' legislation that would allow the killers of Bloody Sunday to be untouched by courts of law.

For John Kelly and the other families, the legislation was rank.
“This was a diabolical piece of legislation.

“The soldiers who killed our loved ones should not only be brought before a court, but prosecuted as well."

Lord Saville must pave the way for further legal action to be taken against the soldiers who fired live rounds into a fleeing crowd in the Bogside.

They must not escape. The families rightly point to their cases being different from other mass killings carried out during the course of the Troubles.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair concurred with this view when he announced the setting up of the new inquiry in 1998.

“Bloody Sunday was different because," he said, “where the state's own authorities are concerned, we must be as sure as we can of the truth, precisely because we pride ourselves on our democracy and respect for the law, and on the professionalism and dedication of our security forces."

As such the events of Bloody Sunday were a “definite matter of public importance".

At the same time, Lord Saville outlined the difficulties that would face the search for the truth of Bloody Sunday.

“The events with which we are concerned took place 26 years ago. We therefore have a very difficult task in trying to find the truth."

The families and the thousands who crammed the streets of Derry for the Civil Rights demonstration are fully aware of the truth. They know that they fled in terror as British troops eyed them through the cross-hairs of their guns.

They know that there was no “fusilade of bombs and bullets" being directed at the Paras as they began their so-called scoop-up operation.

For Derry people the facts are safe knowledge. They have watched and supported as the families of the dead conducted a dignified and just campaign in the face of cover-ups and insults.

They came in their thousands again yesterday to reaffirm their belief in innocence.

They want Lord Saville and the British government to acknowledge a grave wrong and the events of that day and its aftermath to stand as a beacon of healing.

2006 is a year that can deliver closure. It is also an opportunity for a wider healing process. For the families, Saville's findings will mark a further milestone on a long and arduous journey. The majority want justice to be seen to be done in the courts thereafter.

In the words of the poet Emily Dickinson: “Truth is such a rare thing, it is a delight to tell it."

That would be the hope.

• The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday will publish its findings later this year.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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