The most senior surviving British military officer on Bloody Sunday was today giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry.
Robert Ford, 78, the Commander of the Land Forces in Northern Ireland, was on the ground as an observer on January 30, 1972 when paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians on a Derry march.
Age and ill-health will make Ford’s testimony to the British government-appointed inquiry, sitting in London, a protracted affair. He is due to give evidence only in the mornings and over several weeks.
Three weeks before Bloody Sunday he wrote a memo to his superior in Ulster, Lieutenant General Harry Tuzo suggesting that the best way to help maintain law and order was to “shoot selected ringleaders” of rioters in Derry – dubbed the Derry Young Hooligans.
In the memo dated January 7, 1972, he wrote: “The minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders among the DYH after clear warnings have been given.”
At the time he was in day-to-day command of army operations throughout Northern Ireland.
He had noted that the rioters were not deterred by conventional crowd control methods such as rubber bullets and CS gas and regular rioting prevented the army from patrolling the Creggan and the Bogside.
Bereaved families believe that Ford's presence that day may have been influential in the way events violently unfolded.
He has said he never promoted a shoot-to-kill policy and that the paratroopers were deployed to arrest rioters when they came under attack.
Paratroopers on duty on Bloody Sunday were convinced they might face IRA gunmen.