The reaction was instant. An electrifying roar of vindication

Derry came to a standstill for the news it has wanted to hear for 38 years. Cahal Milmo witnessed the city's jubilant reaction

Shortly before 3pm the marchers arrived in Guildhall Square singing "We shall overcome". Some entered the small walled space crying. Others bore giant banners carrying pictures of the 14 victims. But all of them were there because an hour later, some 38 years and fours months ago, the first victim of Bloody Sunday fell barely half a mile away and no one on that day made it this far.

Yesterday, many of those who walked out of the Bogside to gather for the publication of the Saville report outside the baroque Victorian splendour of Derry's Guildhall described the quiet, even uncertain, gathering as the literal end of a journey.

Following the route that the civil rights protesters tried to achieve on 30 January 1972 before the members of Support Company of 1 Para opened fire, the denizens of "Free Derry" entered the square with the expectation that Lord Saville's 12-year inquiry would deliver the vindication that had been denied.

Kay Duddy, the sister of Jackie Duddy, the 17-year-old who became the first victim of the shootings, summed up the sense of anticipation that gripped the 5,000 people who had crammed into the city centre.

She said: "We've waited so long for this and now we're finally here, my stomach is in knots. So many times we thought we were so close, and to think that soon we'll see it in black and white. I just hope I can get through the day."

Ms Duddy recently donated the handkerchief soaked in her brother's blood – and waved by Father Edward Daly as a symbol of humane neutrality that became one of the defining images of the day – to a museum in Derry for a display commemorating the worst massacre of British citizens by their own soldiers since Peterloo.

But yesterday she claimed it back for 24 hours as a "comfort blanket" to be held when she, along with other relatives of the victims, received a copy of the inquiry findings prior to David Cameron standing up before the House of Commons some 600 miles away.

Large screens were set up in the square to convey the Prime Minister's speech but, ultimately, it was perhaps fitting that the first and most telling indication of the rectitude with which Derry received Lord Saville's conclusions came not from Westminster but from the relatives themselves.

Shortly before Mr Cameron stood up, several members of the families' group inside the Guildhall signalled their approval of the report's contents to the crowds waiting outside by making the thumbs-up sign and waving the front cover of a document whose exhaustiveness and cost had never been seen before in British legal history and, most likely, will not be seen again.

The reaction was instantaneous – an electrifying, almost telepathic, roar of vindication that encapsulated the way Bloody Sunday is utterly entrenched in the folk memory of Derry, a compact undulating town of 90,000 citizens.

Dominic Martin, an IT manager who was born a week after the shootings at his family's home in the heart of Catholic Derry, had driven from his home in Belfast for a day that he saw as being "as close to a reckoning as we are going to get". He said: "People thought the events of Bloody Sunday faded away for my generation and beyond. I give daily thanks that my kids have grown up not knowing the Troubles but, as I grew up, we never forgot it.

"Bloody Sunday imbued everything. You knew someone whose mam or uncle Joe had marched that day. You heard stories in the playground about Michael McDaid [a victim who was shot in the face as he walked away from the soldiers] and what was left of him. "It's because of that that I'm here. For better or worse, Bloody Sunday soaked into every brick of this city. Whether Catholic or Protestant, you have at least three generations who have grown up in the shadow of its legacy. You ask a 10-year-old here what it's about and they'll be able to tell you. That's why telling the truth about it is so important. And it's good to see that truth being told here [in Guildhall Square] because that's where [the marchers] wanted to come."

The sprouting of newly minted buildings across Derry, from shopping centres to a five-star hotel peeping over the city walls, is testimony to the peace dividend that has been reaped by its inhabitants. If indeed it was the residents of the Bogside who overwhelmingly flocked to the square yesterday, they did so with a motivation that seemed to owe little to bitterness.

There are those in the Unionist community who argue that Bloody Sunday and the minute examination of those it claimed has created a "hierarchy of victims" of the Troubles.

Ronnie Crawford, an Ulster Unionist councillor in Lisburn, lost his brother Maynard, a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment sergeant in 1972, when he was shot and killed by the IRA. He said: "The Bloody Sunday victims were killed during a spontaneous riot, and the deaths are regrettable, but others have been deliberately and brutally murdered and we are just expected to forget and move on."

Yesterday, a few hundred yards away, beyond the dark rock of the city walls, Joseph McCartney was sat outside his home overlooking Free Derry Corner and the granite obelisk that stands as a memorial to the Bloody Sunday dead.

The 65-year-old had recently completed his service in the British Army when he took part in the march on 30 January 1972 and witnessed men who he would have recently called comrades killing people with whom he had grown up. He said: "Do I want those soldiers prosecuted after what we've heard today? Yes. Were those who died any different as victims from the people killed by the IRA? No. The grief of their families is no different. But I saw people shot dead by the British Army, by people who were supposed to protect them. At that point the British state became the enemy here. Only now, only today, does that begin to change."

LIVES CHANGED...

Olive Bonner: We got the proof we wanted

Then aged 32 and the oldest of eight brothers and sisters, she warned "the baby of the family" Hugh Gilmour, 17, to be careful as he headed out to march. He was killed by a bullet while running away from soldiers in Rossville Street

I told him: "Watch yourself, there will be rubber bullets and tear gas". We never thought there would be live bullets. I was standing on the veranda when I saw Jackie Duddy shot. Then I saw Pat Doherty lying on the pavement dying. I ran upstairs to my mother's and somebody knocked on the door and said Hugh had been shot. We just took it for granted he was not dead.

At the hospital we couldn't see his name on the list for the wounded. Then someone said: "You may go to the morgue and look." They were all lying there on tables. It was desperate. I just kept thinking, "He is not here, he is not here." But he was up in the corner.

I used to get flashes of memories. For a while we always talked about him as if he was still there. That was our way of coping with the trauma. Just the other night I woke and was I remembering all the names of those killed – I went right down the list.

The Widgery tribunal was whitewash from day one; we knew it was all lies. We needed to prove to the whole world that these were innocent boys and men. So I am just glad to see this day. We got the proof we wanted. We proved the British government was lying. We proved the British Army was lying. My mother, my father and Hugh are all at peace now. I am happy as the day is long. I will be able to go to bed tonight and sleep.

Gerry Duddy: It has affected my whole life

He was 14 when he and brother Jackie, 17, decided to attend the march against their father's wishes.

Everybody was running for cover. You had bullets whizzing around, which was terrifying, but my main worry was that I knew my father would not be happy we had been to the march.

I didn't know Jackie had been shot. When I got home and saw the crowds at the front door I knew something was wrong. My sister got me at the top of the stairs and said Jackie had been killed. It was an awful lot to take in.

Then there were the coffins laid out – that will stay with me. It has affected my whole life. I am always Gerry Duddy, the brother of Jackie Duddy who was killed on Bloody Sunday. Every time we see the famous picture and Father Daly waving the handkerchief it brings back memories. But we wanted the world to see it.

It was my pleasure to thank people today for all the support they have given us over the years. We could not have done it without them.

Finally, a British Prime Minister acknowledged that the people who were murdered or injured were all innocents. He acknowledged the wrongs that day. That was worth the wait. Finally Widgery is where it belongs: in the bin.

My brother had only started out in life. I made him a promise that I would clear his name and today I hope he is looking down on me.

Stanley Matchett: I would love people to leave it behind

Then a 30-year-old news photographer, he took the famous image of Father Edward Daly waving a white handkerchief as a group of men carried the fatally wounded Jackie Duddy, 17 – the first person to die.

Today brought back all those memories. It was sunny – blues skies. Just a civil rights march – we expected nothing more than a bit of shouting. Then we heard shots and suddenly there was a body lying in a pool of blood. The whole thing lasted a few minutes but it was pandemonium. It took our breath away. Father Daly was leading as they carried a body. At the time you don't take it in. You are in shock. Only afterwards I realised it was a 17-year-old shot in the chest.

Bloody Sunday was a defining moment for me. Without a doubt, it is the most published picture I have taken. People all know it. You realise later that you are helping to write history pages.

But I am none the wiser because of the inquiry. I think the money could have been better used – we need schools, hospitals. That's the shame. I would love to see people be able to leave it behind.

Bernadette Devlin: I lost the capacity for fear thereafter

The MP for Mid Ulster, she was speaking at the civil rights march.

I was on the platform when the soldiers opened fire. My abiding memories are fear, horror, disbelief and detachment. Because of the adrenaline rush of fear that day I lost the capacity to be afraid thereafter. Significantly worse things have happened in my life since: I was shot eight times in my own house and I distinctly remember not being afraid at that time.

Bloody Sunday changed the course of the civil rights movement. The touchpaper for a war was lit by those soldiers. It was the start of a 35-year protracted and politically violent period. It changed the course of my life and that of everyone else of my generation. Despite the long history of Anglo-Irish relations, I had never considered the British would do that.

I can understand that the relatives of the victims feel pleased about the Saville report. It is important for them that their innocent family members have had their names cleared. But what Lord Saville does not address is why the Government lied about that day. He places no blame on anyone except the soldiers on the ground. I do not think we will ever get an answer.

I did not want a public inquiry. I testified out of respect for the family, but I knew that Lord Saville could not tell me anything I did not already know.

Interviews by Terri Judd and Mark Hughes

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