Former para lied in original Bloody Sunday deaths account

A FORMER paratrooper said yesterday he fabricated his original eyewitness account of the Bloody Sunday shootings that put soldiers in a positive light.

The radio operator in the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment's anti-tank platoon was taken line-by-line through his statement to the Royal Military Police (RMP) given days after paratroopers killed 13 unarmed men on a Derry civil rights march on January 30, 1972.

Yesterday he rejected claims made in this account that he saw gunmen and petrol bombers: "I believe in the first statement which I made I used fabrication it was coming from me."

The soldier, identified only as 027, told the Saville Inquiry in London: "I'm unable now to recollect precisely my frame of mind or outlook but I believe I would have felt it to be the appropriate and correct thing to do at the time."

His account differs from the official British army view that only justifiable shootings were carried out against rioting gunmen and bombers, the inquiry was told. Soldier 027 contends that his RMP statement includes facts that have been "altered and added" as justification for the shootings.

Under questioning by Christopher Clarke QC, counsel for the inquiry, 027 also rejected his original claim that he heard several shots from different calibre weapons coming from Chamberlain Street and Pilot Row.

Soldier 027 said there was a possibility that a shot landed within yards of an armoured vehicle: "I believe what I'm saying is that I'm not excluding the possibility that a shot was struck."

Soldier 027 also denied his initial claim that he heard someone shout "sniper" as the soldiers sheltered behind the wall at Kells Walk.

Soldier 027 admitted that some of his RMP statement, taken on February 5 1972, was lies. He never saw a man with a rifle in Rossville Street, did not hear shots being fired from the Glenfada Park area before they moved from Rossville Street, or saw a man with a petrol bomb in Glenfada Park. It was all a "complete fabrication", he said, so he could record what was the "least detrimental" to men in his section.

Asked if his fabricated account had been written to preserve the battalion's reputation or if it had been discussed with others, Soldier 027 said: "At this time I think that there would not have been a great deal of analysis. I have no memory now of particular exchanges but a group of soldiers tends towards a group mentality. I do not think I was acting as an individual at the time."

His statement to the Widgery Tribunal, which originally investigated Bloody Sunday, was crafted in order to prevent "dropping people directly in it". Soldier 027 said it excluded names and anything about the manner in which people were shot because he "wished to avoid doing anything that would reflect badly on the army."

He was attempting to be as frank as possible while ensuring that no individual could be connected to any specific incident. He said he could not recall the process of giving or signing the statement, which is similar but not identical to his RMP statement. It includes expanded references and verbatim extracts from his fabricated RMP statement.

In his Saville Inquiry statement, 027 stated that he was describing the gunfire from Kells Walk to the rubble barricade in his original statement when the lawyer stood, expressed surprise and said something like "we can't have that, can we, Private? That makes it sound as if shots were being fired into the crowd."

On the stand today, 027 said he recalled a lawyer leaving the room as he prepared a statement and then returning with a statement which he signed.

He told the inquiry that in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday the paras had tense discussions in their armoured van about how many of the 108 rounds they fired would be acceptable and justifiable. He was taken back to a 1975 account he wrote of that day and his experiences in Northern Ireland where he said dum-dum bullets had been fired into the fleeing crowd.

In that account, 027 recalled there had been "an intense wave of excitement as we figured out how many rounds were fired".

He told the inquiry yesterday : "I have no reason to doubt it or disbelieve it. I just have no memory of it now."

Soldier H had fired 22 rounds but was stupid enough to boast about it within the sergeant's hearing before their personal tallies could be accounted for, the inquiry was told.

Under questioning, 027 accepted that the 22 shots, more than a magazine's-worth, would need some explaining. He also recalled different stories that were being suggested to explain the shots.

In his inquiry statement, which 027 has said he recalls to be true, he said: "We could not take Soldier H seriously as he was smiling and talking about people popping up behind cars and shooting at windows."

Soldier H thought what he said was quite clever.

He added: "Had Soldier H been more discreet, it would probably have never come to light. We thought 'stupid bastard'."

He maintained that within his platoon Lance Corporal F and Soldier G, whom he believes may have been responsible for eight or 10 of the killings, had a "game plan" for that day's shootings. They started firing and other paras joined in, 027 said, adding that blame should be accepted by those in authority: "I think it was a sad chain of events and there are human errors in all things but this human error brought about a disastrous outcome.

"In the event ... it seems that deploying our particular unit in that particular situation was unwise. I think that people who have a responsibility of authority ready to take the accolades when things go right also have to take the blame when the opposite applies."

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on
www.irishexaminer.com/podcasts

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence