Bloody Sunday victims can 'rest in peace'
Cheers erupt in Derry as British government releases report on 1972 killings
DERRY, Northern Ireland — The moment when the people of this city learned that their 38-year campaign to establish the innocence of the victims of Bloody Sunday came at 3.26 p.m. today, four minutes before it was officially announced. That was when a thumbs-up appeared from an aperture in a stained-glass window high in Derry's Guildhall where relatives of the 14 dead had been given an advance view of Lord Saville's 5,000-word report.
The response was a huge cheer from a crowd of 6,000 gathered in hot sunshine in Guildhall Square. A wave of emotion swept through the square and the packed nearby streets as more thumbs and waving hands appeared. The cheering continued until the British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared on a giant television screen at a half-past-three.
There was silence as Cameron announced to the House of Commons that the killings of civil rights demonstrators by members of Britain's elite First Parachute Regiment on Jan. 30, 1972, were "unjustified and unjustifiable."
This produced another prolonged cheer. Many people stood applauding with tears in their eyes. Justice had been done at last for the relatives of those whom the British Army had shot and then callously called bombers and gunmen. All of the 14 victims were exonerated from any blame.
Further cheers echoed across this walled city in northwest Northern Ireland as Cameron went on to say that none of the firing by soldiers was justified and that the report was a "shocking conclusion to read." And then came the words from the British prime minister that the relatives had waited for during four decades of campaigning: "On behalf of the government and on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry."
Bloody Sunday was the single most important event in "The Troubles" that afflicted Northern Ireland during the last decades of the 20th century. The killing of 14 demonstrators and the wounding of 14 more by the paratroopers resulted in the downfall of the Unionist-controlled government at Stormont eight weeks later and produced a wave of recruits to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The eight minutes of bloodshed led to profound outrage throughout Ireland and the burning down of the British Embassy in Dublin. It was one thing to kill innocent people, the relatives said, it was another thing for the British government to then call them terrorists.
None were terrorists, Lord Saville found. Some were shot lying on the ground — like Jim Wray, 22 — or in the back — like Patrick Doherty, 31, who was cut down by bullets as he tried to crawl to safety. For the first time, a British government had come to terms with deeds that, as Cameron admitted, "strengthened the Provisional IRA and was a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."
Derry is a close-knit community and the sense of outrage simmered over the fact that the victims had their reputations destroyed, first by Gen. Mike Jackson, who listed each victim as either a gunman or "nail bomber," and then in a report by Lord Widgery in 1972 that exonerated the British army and accused the victims of illegal activities.
The damning conclusion of the Saville report has profound implications for the British establishment and its management of "The Troubles." It leaves the reputations of the Parachute Regiment and Lord Widgery in tatters. Cameron disclosed that the soldiers were never under threat, even though Martin McGuinness, IRA commander in Derry at the time, now deputy chief executive of the Northern Ireland power-sharing government, had a submachine gun in his possession that day.
After Cameron's address, relatives spoke one by one about the vindication of their sons, brothers and fathers. Kay Duddy — sister of Jackie Duddy, 17, who was the first to be killed, shot as he ran away beside Father Edward Daly — called on behalf of "the families of those murdered and injured on Bloody Sunday" for a minute's silence for all those "killed in the conflict over the last 40 years."
That 60 seconds when the throng stood quietly was like a bridge between Northern Ireland's bloody past and a future secured by the peace process.
Speaking to GlobalPost, McGuinness said, "To be exonerated before the world means everything to the relatives and the people of Derry. The Parchute Regiment is not a peace-keeping force. It was sent to teach the people of Derry a lesson. The findings today come in the midst of the most important peace process in the world and can be a liberation for all of us."
Earlier in the day thousands of people, many veterans of the original march, now in their 50s and 60s, paraded along the original route through William Street where they were prevented from reaching their destination by the British soldiers. This time there were no soldiers in sight and hardly any police, and they emerged triumphant onto Guildhall Square.
There, Tony Doherty, brother of victim Patrick Doherty, told them: "Unjustified! Unjustifiable! Those are the words we have been waiting to hear since 1972. The victims of Bloody Sunday have been vindicated and the Parachute Regiment disgraced."
Catherine Kelly, sister of 17-year-old Michael Kelly, shot dead at a barricade in Rossville Street, declared, "I say now to my little brother Michael, he can rest in peace forever."
Patrick Doherty, 31
Was shot from behind as he attempted to crawl to safety from the forecourt of Rossville flats. He died at the scene after being hit with a single round that entered his body through the right buttock and exited his left chest. While the soldier who fired at him initially claimed he had been armed with a pistol, a photograph of Mr Doherty taken moments before he was hit showed no evidence of a firearm.
Gerald Donaghey, 17
Was running between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park when he was shot in the abdomen. The teenager, who the IRA later claimed was a member of its IRA youth wing, was carried to the house of local man Raymond Rogan where he was examined by a doctor.
Mr Rogan and another man then attempted to drive the teenager to the city's Altnagelvin hospital. However, they were stopped at a military checkpoint and ordered to abandon the vehicle. At this point a soldier drove Gerald to an army first aid post. He was pronounced dead on arrival.
Intense controversy surrounds what happened next. A police photograph of his clothes showed a number of nail bombs in his pockets, however those who treated the youth, including the army medical officer, said they found nothing in his pockets.
Lord Widgery in the first judicial inquiry rejected claims that the nailbomb was planted. Paddy Ward, a self-proclaimed leader of the IRA youth at the time, told the later Saville Inquiry he had given Gerald two nail bombs in the hours before he was shot.
John "Jackie" Duddy, 17
Shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville flats, he was the first to be killed on Bloody Sunday. Witnesses claimed he was unarmed and running away from the scene when he was hit.
Hugh Gilmour, 17
Was hit with a single shot was he ran away from the rubble barricade on Rossville Street. A photo taken of the stricken teenager moments after he fell showed no evidence of a weapon and witnesses insisted he was unarmed. A student nurse attempted to treat his wounds but he died at the scene.
Michael Kelly, 17
Shot once in the abdomen close to the rubble barricade. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Lord Widgery accepted he was not armed but speculated whether he was standing close to someone who was hit, given the traces of lead particles on his clothes. This theory did not countenance contamination from soldiers who handled his body.
Michael McDaid, 20
Died instantly after being shot in the face at the barricade. The downward trajectory of the bullet entry wound led to claims he was shot by soldiers positioned on top of Derry's historic stone walls, which overlooked the scene.
Kevin McElhinney, 17
Was shot from behind as he crawled toward Rossville flats. The bullet entered his right buttock and exited his shoulder. Witnesses, including a Roman Catholic priest, claim he was not armed. When he was hit fellow marchers ran out from the flats and dragged him inside, but he died soon after.
Bernard "Barney" McGuigan, 41
Was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty, waving a white handkerchief in his hand, when he was shot in the head with a single round. He died instantly.
Eyewitnesses claimed he was unarmed. Citing lead on his hands, Widgery found that he been been close to someone who had fired. This again ignored the possibility of contamination.
Gerard McKinney, 35
Was running close behind Gerald Donaghey in Glenfada Park when the teenager was shot. Witnesses said he then raised his hands and shouted "Don't shoot!" but moments later was hit in the chest. The bullet passed sideways through his body but did not wound either arm, indicating that his hands were indeed raised at the time.
William "Willie" McKinney, 27
(not related to Gerard) Also shot in Glenfada Park. A keen amateur film-maker he had recorded scenes from the march with his hand held cinecamera before the shooting started. The camera was found in his jacket pocket as he lay dying.
William Nash, 19
Struck by a single bullet to the chest close to the rubble barricade. With the trajectory again downward, it is thought he may also have been fired on by a soldier on the walls. Witnesses said he was unarmed, but Widgery found that he had probably been firing a gun. This was again based on lead particles on his left hand.
James Wray, 22
Shot twice in Glenfada Park. Two witnesses to the Widgery Tribunal said the second shot was fired at close range while he lay injured on the ground from the first bullet.
John Young, 17
Killed instantly with a single shot to the head at the rubble barricade. The bullet hit him in the left eye and travelled downward through his chest, indicating that he may also have been shot from the walls above. Again based on lead particle on his left hand, Widgery found that he had probably fired a gun.
However, two witnesses insisted he was unarmed.
John Johnston, 59
Was shot twice from soldiers inside a derelict building in William Street. This incident happened away from the scene of the rest of the shootings and took place around 15 minutes earlier. He survived the day but died six months later.
His family insist his death was linked to the injuries sustained and claim he is the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday.
Thirteen other people, excluding Mr Johnston, were injured on the day. They were: Michael Bradley (22), Michael Bridge (25), Alana Burke (18), Patrick Campbell (51), Margaret Deery (31), Damien Donaghy (15), Joseph Friel (22), Danny Gillespie (32), Patrick McDaid (25), Daniel McGowan (38), Joseph Mahon (16), Alexander Nash (51) and Michael Quinn (17).
Information on the victims from the Belfast Telegraph
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.