At least two civilian gunmen were present in Derry on Bloody Sunday, it was claimed today.
A Lance Corporal in the Parachute Regiment told the Saville Inquiry in London he saw one man carrying a pistol, while another was armed with a rifle on the day 13 civil rights marchers were shot dead by soldiers.
A 14th man died later.
Soldier INQ 1799, who was granted anonymity, also said he heard automatic gunfire on January 30, 1972, which may have come from a Thompson sub-machine gun favoured by the IRA.
In his statement to the inquiry, Soldier INQ 1799 described seeing two gunmen at separate points after he went through a crowd control barrier at the city’s William St.
Arthur Harvey QC, counsel for many of the families, described the soldier as a “suggestible person” and asked how could he have seen gunmen in areas in which there were many other soldiers.
However, Soldier INQ 1799 replied: “I don’t regard myself as being so (suggestible).”
The soldier said he was “absolutely certain” that he saw the two gunmen he described, the first of which was in the Chamberlain St area.
“I remember that the gunman was wearing a long parka which was the fashion at the time. The parka was dyed black and he was also wearing black gloves,” he said.
“The gunman was pointing the pistol in my general direction. I could see the ball shape of his clasped hands around the automatic pistol.
“When I saw the gunman I immediately stopped thinking about making arrests. My option then, was to either engage him or take cover.”
Soldier 1799 said the gunman was surrounded by other civilians so it was unsafe for him to open fire, so he dived into the doorway of a house to take cover.
He said that as he took cover, he heard the first gunfire he heard on Bloody Sunday.
“The gunfire I heard was two distinct bursts of automatic fire from a Thompson sub-machine gun,” he said.
“I was very familiar with the weapon as it has a very distinct slow, ‘boom, boom’ noise. The first burst of fire I heard was probably seven to 12 rounds and the second three to five rounds.”
Soldier 1799 said he was unaware of where the shooting was coming from but it sounded as though it was close enough to be potentially threatening to him.
He said he then went back to an army vehicle to deposit his rubber bullet gun, before making his way to an area of wasteground near Rossville flats.
Soldier 1799 said he then saw a gunman holding a M1 carbine rifle.
“I could see that the gunman was lying in the prone position,” he added.
Meanwhile, the inquiry today also saw footage of a riot at Magilligan beach in Co Derry filmed by William McKinney on January 22, 1972, eight days before he was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.
Soldier INQ 573, a captain in the Royal Green Jackets, told the inquiry he saw an “awful lot of unnecessary violence by the paras, including baton swinging” that day.
“They were striking a middle-aged man and a woman, whose age I could not determine as they lay on the ground,” he said.
“The paras were striking them with their batons. I physically stopped the paras from striking the civilians any further. I was extremely angry at what I saw these paras doing.”
Soldier INQ 573 said he saw other paratroopers “misbehaving in a similar way” and had words with them.
“To me it looked like the paras had got out of control,” he added.
The captain said he could remember thinking there would be violence the following week when he heard the paratroopers would be coming to police the civil rights march on what became Bloody Sunday.
Soldier INQ 573, said: “I remember the reports coming through that first one, then two, then three, six, seven, eight civilians had been shot and killed.
“I had the impression that there must have been something of a cock-up for that number to have been killed.”
The soldiers were witnesses 698 and 699 and appeared on day 314 of the inquiry.
The Saville inquiry, which usually sits at the Guildhall in Derry, is currently hearing evidence from military witnesses and others in London because of concerns for their safety.
Lord Saville of Newdigate and the Commonwealth judges accompanying him on the Bloody Sunday inquiry began their work nearly four years ago and are not expected to report back until late 2004.