Bloody Sunday troops tried to blow my head off, claims Sinn Fein leader

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The Independent Online

British paratroops may have made a serious attempt to kill a leading figure within the republican movement when they opened fire on Bloody Sunday, the inquiry into the shootings was told yesterday.

The Saville Inquiry heard that Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman of Sinn Fein, believed the first shots had been aimed at him. "In hindsight, the first shot may have been a warning shot, but I believe the second shot was a serious effort at blowing my head off," he said in an account read to theinquiry.

The inquiry heard a range of evidence about the first shots fired by the paratroops in Bogside, Londonderry, on 30 January 1972. Thirteen civilians were killed after a civil rights parade.

The counsel to the inquiry, Christopher Clark QC, said the tribunal would also have to consider if the first soldier to open fire may have caused other paratroops to think the army was coming under attack.

As part of an opening submission, he suggested that those first shots may have been fired by the commander of 1 Para's Mortar Platoon - a soldier known as Lieutenant N.

The soldier has claimed he was on wasteground when he fired three warning shots at an approaching crowd and one at a man carrying what appeared to be a petrol bomb. The action was unacceptable under the army's terms of engagement, the inquiry was told, because a petrol bomb was not considered a weapon that warranted firing. "The effect may have been to cause other soldiers to believe that the army was being fired at," Mr Clarke said.

But he told the inquiry, sitting in Londonderry Guildhall, that the shots may equally have suggested to civilians that the army was firing at them.

The reverberation of N's initial shots, as well as the sight of armoured personnel carriers arriving, could have caused renegade IRA men to open fire because they believed the Bogside was under attack.

The statement by Mr McLaughlin, then a 26-year-old refrigeration engineer,recounted how he heard a shot - an "unmistakable highvelocity rifle shot"- as he ran down Chamberlain Street.

The inquiry also heard from Gilles Peress, a French photographer working for Magnum at the time. He believed N's first shot was directed at him. The inquiry continues.