Paras admit 'mistakes' but reject report as one-sided

Paratroopers who served on Bloody Sunday have accused the Saville report of turning a blind eye to the role played by the IRA and pinning all the blame for the deaths on the soldiers.

They claim that Lt-Col Derek Wilford, the commanding officer blamed in the document as the person most responsible for the bloodshed, was being made a scapegoat by the inquiry.

Members of the military maintain that the main accusation made by Lord Saville against Lt-Col Wilford – that he disobeyed a direct order not to send his troops into the nationalist stronghold of Bogside – is contradicted by evidence heard by the inquiry.

Current and former officers also point out that the inquiry heard testimony that the decision to send in the Paras, with their reputation for toughness, to a volatile Derry was "taken at the highest level" of the political establishment. They say the issue was discussed by the Heath government of the time, against the wishes of commanders.

In the wake of the report, six former soldiers of 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, said in a statement: "We do not accept the criticism levelled at Lt-Col Wilford. We believe that the inquiry was alive to the potential charge that only lower-ranking persons might be criticised and so conclude that Lord Saville felt he had to blame somebody of rank and Lt-Col Wilford would do."

They continued: "It may be that the inquiry did not want to be dubbed a 'whitewash' nor produce a report which in any way appeared ambiguous as it felt it needed to justify the expenditure of considerably in excess of £200m. It has therefore chosen to produce a summary which on the face of it appears to give all possible benefit of doubt to one side and totally ignore the other."

The soldiers challenged Lord Saville's conclusion that Martin McGuinness, then adjutant of the Provisional IRA's Derry Brigade, held a Thompson submachine-gun on the day but may not have used it. "Such inaction by a Provisional IRA leader would have resulted in his tenure of office being very short indeed," they stated.

"That some of our comrades who opened fire made mistakes is obvious but these men had a great deal of public order experience and they were not given to panic. Had they been so, then similar actions would have manifested themselves during the previous two years or during eight of the remaining months of 1972, when the battalion was fully engaged in public order situations throughout Northern Ireland.

"Something different happened that day to initiate the tragedy which unfolded. There has been consistent and clear evidence that the IRA was engaged in a hurried defence of the area and that a considerable amount of hostile firing took place."

David Cameron, who has apologised as Prime Minister for the Bloody Sunday massacre, said yesterday: "I do find it painful that I now sometimes sit around a table with Martin McGuinness and I think about what that man did. But everyone has to come to terms with that because that is the price we are paying for peace, and it is a price that is worth paying, because peace is

so much better than the alternative.''

The main charge against Lt-Col Wilford is that he directly disobeyed a specific order from Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, the commanding officer of 8 infantry brigade in charge of Derry, not to enter Bogside, where a civil rights march was taking place.

However, the tribunal heard from Maj-Gen Michael Steele, who, at the time a major, was chief of staff at 8 infantry brigade and played a part in transmitting the order, that there were, in fact, no strictures imposed on Lt-Col Wilford about entering Bogside.

One senior officer said yesterday: "Wilford was adamant that he had not disobeyed any orders, and Steele, who should know, backed him up. But Lord Saville chose to take the opposite view which basically damned Wilford."

The inquiry also heard that Maj- Gen Peter Welsh, then a Lt-Col commanding the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Green Jackets, was so concerned about Paras being deployed to Derry that he telephoned General Sir David (later Lord) Ramsbotham, military assistant to the head of the Army, and General (later Lord) Michael Carver, to stress that "the Paras were the wrong people for this operation".

What happened to the soldiers on duty in 1972?

The regiment

1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, which was involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings, is now the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) and works alongside the SAS and the SBS.

The SFSG was effectively the creation of General Sir Mike Jackson when he headed the Army as Chief of General Staff. Jackson, who was then a captain in 1 Para, took part in the operation on Bloody Sunday.

Members of the SFSG have fought extensively in Afghanistan, where one of their main tasks now is to help with the training of Afghan special forces.

The soldiers involved

Lance Corporal F, Corporal E, Private G and Private H, who were all named in the Saville Report as the most prolific shooters on Bloody Sunday, are now believed to have left the Army, two of them after serving in the SAS. Lance Corporal F, who was accused of being responsible for up to four deaths, was promoted before he left.

Lieutenant N, who fired the first shots in Bogside in an attempt to disperse a crowd – and who is also thought to have been responsible for shooting a 17-year-old boy – was also promoted but is now also believed to have left the Army.

The commanding officer

Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, commanding officer of 1 Para, has also left the Army. When he was last heard of, he was living in Belgium suffering with poor health. Lt Col Wilford was exonerated by the Widgery Tribunal shortly after Bloody Sunday in 1972 and six months later received an OBE.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral