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
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'