Officer's memo stated 'rioters should be shot'

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The Independent Online

Three weeks before Bloody Sunday, the British Army's second most senior officer in Northern Ireland secretly said that young rioters in Londonderry should be shot, the Saville inquiry into the massacre heard yesterday.

The memo by Maj-Gen Robert Ford, then Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, was not revealed to the police at the time. Sir Graham Shillington, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1972, said in a statement: "I would have been horrified if this had been suggested."

The second day of the inquiry into the deaths of 14 men, shot by paratroopers during a procession in Londonderry, also heard evidence that a senior RUC officer, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, predicted widespread violence and complete destruction of good will if the demonstrators were confronted.

A series of hitherto classified intelligence and army documents presented a picture of Londonderry as a city on the edge of anarchy, with nationalist violence wreaking havoc to the impotent fury of the security forces.

On 7 January 1972 Maj-Gen Ford sent a memo to his immediate superior, Sir Harry Tuzo, the general officer commanding, putting forward the plan to shoot ringleaders of the Derry Young Hooligans (DYH). The gangs, he claimed, were acting in tandem with the IRA to cause devastation and trap soldiers into "killing zones of snipers".

The general also stated that the army should consider issuing rifles firing .22 ammunition instead of the standard issue 7.62 millimetre to minimise the chances of "killing more than person".

Maj-Gen Ford said in his memo: "The DYH, gangs of tough, teenage youths permanently unemployed have developed sophisticated tactics of brick and stone throwing, destruction and arson. Under cover of snipers in nearby buildings ... they extend the radius of anarchy by degrees into additional streets and areas.

"Against the DYH the army in Londonderry is for the moment virtually incapable ... the weapons at our disposal - CS gas and baton rounds - are ineffective. This is because the DYH operate mainly in open areas where they can avoid the gas and some have respirators, many others makeshift wet rag masks.

"Attempts to close with the DYH bring the troops into the killing zone of snipers... The commander of a body of troops called out to restore law and order has a duty to use minimum force, but he also has a duty to restore law and order. We have fulfilled the first duty but are failing in the second."

In his statement to Lord Saville's inquiry, Maj-Gen Ford did not deny writing the memo, but refuted that it instituted a "shoot to kill policy". He continued: "The suggestion to shoot a few ringleaders was not an instruction to kill. 'Shoot' and 'kill' are obviously different words."

General Sir Mike Jackson, the former Nato commander in Kosovo who, as The Independent revealed earlier this week will be giving evidence to the Saville tribunal, said in his statement about Maj-Gen Ford's recommendations: "People should be careful not to make a ridiculous jump from a memo like that to [the position] ... that there was a deliberate policy to shoot people."

General Jackson, recently appointed Commander of Land Forces, said the memo was "miles away" from an order to kill. He added: "It would be ridiculous to think there was a plot. One can see a plot in everything."

And Lord Carrington, the Defence Secretary at the time of Bloody Sunday, had told the tribunal: "To suggest there was a deliberate policy to shoot civilians is ludicrous and something no politician would ever agree to."

The tribunal was told by both members of the security forces and the public in Londonderry of how rioting had turned into a ritual with its own roles and conventions. In one street corner notices were regularly posted up saying: "Rioting starts at 2pm sharp".

There was Saturday afternoon stone and bottle throwing, which became known as "matinees". These would promptly stop at teatime "as if by a mutual agreement", and then resume afterwards.

The tacit rules of engagement between the soldiers and the rioters meant, for example, that on Sundays the fighting would not start until the football on television was finished. And other rounds of violence appeared to start at almostarranged times.

The hearing resumes today.