The British army’s wall of snipers on Bloody Sunday did not spot a single gunman during the main shootings, the Saville Inquiry was told today.
Marksmen had their sights rained on the junction of William Street and Rossville Street, known locally as Aggro Corner, because that was an expected flashpoint on the 30 January 1972 Derry civil rights march.
British paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed men that day, in a seven-minute gun battle they claim was triggered by being attacked by IRA gunmen.
Another renowned trouble spot – the Rossville Flats – was covered by army snipers who were also scanning the barricades for any violent flare-ups.
General Robert Ford, who as Commander of Land Forces (CLF) was in charge of the army’s day-to-day operations, told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry he was not surprised that the army’s “counter snipers” did not spot any gunmen or bombers during the main shootings.
Arthur Harvey QC, representing many of the bereaved families, asked Ford: “Is it not surprising, if there was a gun battle, with the IRA out in the open for the first time in Derry, that not one sniper was able to have an identifiable target on even one occasion?”
Ford replied: “At the time apparently not, but now of course.”
He was not expecting heavy IRA gunfire because of the “very large number” of snipers who were deployed.
The media were on site and had been strongly briefed about the situation, which was unlikely to have happened if a gun battle was expected, he said.
Ford added: “I was generally of the opinion that the precautions we had taken matched counter snipers ... would be very likely to be sufficient on the day to prevent the IRA starting up.”
Ford wrongly thought that either the Royal Anglians or the Green Jackets, Derry’s resident battalions, “or one of them from each at least” had opened fire during the main shootings, he told the inquiry.
Evidence from those soldiers suggest they fired at gunmen later that day.