BRITAIN held its hands up yesterday to the killing of 14 civilians shot by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday.
More than 38 years after the events in Derry, when troops opened fire on unarmed civil rights marchers, the mammoth Saville Inquiry report delivered a devastating indictment.
It said none of the dead posed a threat and the actions of the soldiers were totally without justification.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivered a shocking analysis of the bloodshed inflicted by the soldiers and told the House of Commons: "On behalf of the Government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry."
Relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead poured on to the steps of Derry’s Guildhall, where they were greeted by cheers from the thousands who had gathered for the report’s release.
Tony Doherty, whose father Paddy died, said: "The victims of Bloody Sunday have been vindicated and the Parachute Regiment has been disgraced. Their medals of honour have to be removed.
"It can now be proclaimed to the world that the dead and the wounded of Bloody Sunday, civil rights marchers, one and all, were innocent, one and all, and gunned down on their own streets by soldiers who had been given to believe that they could kill with perfect impunity."
Mr Doherty invited bereaved relatives to come to the microphone, heralding the emotional highpoint of a dramatic day, as families read the names of their loved ones to the gathering.
Their words boomed out across Guildhall Square as each ended their sentence with the shout: "Innocent".
In 1998, then prime minister Tony Blair commissioned Mark Saville to carry out a fresh inquiry into how the 14 civilians died after British troops opened fire on a civil rights march in Derry on January 30, 1972.
The move followed a lengthy campaign by bereaved relatives, angry that official records still contained the Widgery report which had controversially cleared the soldiers of blame and accused the victims of being armed.
Saville’s findings, which cost nearly £200 million (€240m) , effectively overturned Widgery by exonerating the dead and injured, and delivering a withering account that showed soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have come under attack.
Mr Cameron said: "These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But you do not defend the British army by defending the indefensible.
"There is no point trying to soften or equivocate what is in the report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified."
He told MPs: "What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong."
Chief of the general staff, General David Richards, said: "The prime minister has apologised on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved on the day, and I fully support that statement."
The North’s chief constable, Matt Baggott, and director of the region’s Public Prosecution Service, will now consider the implications of the report, with some relatives already on record as demanding troops be charged for their actions.
Deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, meanwhile, denied having a submachine gun, and when asked about the Saville finding that it was probable that he had the weapon, he said: "no."
He said the report had cleared everybody in the city, and added: "He (Saville) fully pointed the finger of blame for what happened directly at the British Parachute Regiment."
Foyle MP, Mark Durkan, fought back tears in the Commons as he read out the names of the dead, and said the publication came on a "day of deep emotion".
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was found by the report to have been shot by soldiers without justification, made an emotional address to the crowd at the Guildhall. He recalled the civil rights movement of the 1960s and prompted cheers by declaring: "We have overcome."