The British government has published a long-awaited damning report on the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland, blaming British soldiers for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” killing of 14 “innocent” civilians.
The report is the conclusion of a 12-year-long inquiry headed by British High Court judge Lord Saville, who was charged with finding out how a civil rights march in the city of Londonderry on Jan. 30, 1972, turned into a bloodbath. That day — soon to be known as Bloody Sunday — saw 13 demonstrators killed after paratroopers opened fire on a crowd they were supposed to be policing. Fifteen more were injured, one of whom later died of his injuries.
A 1972 inquiry into the shootings cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing, supporting their claim that they discharged their weapons only after being threatened, and solely targeted gunmen or petrol-bombers. But witnesses and family members have always argued that the victims — several of whom were waving white flags when they were gunned down — were unarmed protesters.
Saville’s 5,000-page, 10-volume report overwhelmingly backs the families’ version of events. Announcing the findings of the report in Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the army had fired the first shot, and none of the victims had been holding weapons. “In no case, was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire,” Cameron said. “The support company reacted by losing their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training.”
The inquiry also found that many of the soldiers — 35 of whom gave evidence, along with about 2,500 other people — lied about the day’s events to justify their use of overwhelming force. “Some [protesters] were killed or injured while clearly fleeing the scene or assisting others. One person was shot while crawling away from the soldiers,” the prime minister said.
The investigation cost some $300 million and took 12 years to complete, making it the longest and most expensive inquiry ever held in the U.K. The report noted that Northern Ireland’s current Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, then an IRA member, was present at the time of the violence and was “probably armed with a submachine gun.” However, he did not engage in “any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire.”
The decision to prosecute any individual rests with Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service. Will we have to wait another 12 years or so for anyone to be indicted? And will any of those who lied be charged with perjury?