This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Monday, 7 June 2010
38 years after Bloody Sunday, soldiers face growing fear of murder charges
Soldiers and officers involved in Bloody Sunday could face prosecution and even murder charges over the events of nearly 40 years ago following the long-awaited verdict of the official inquiry.
The investigation, launched by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, is due to release its final report after 11 years of hearings and lengthy delays that cost the taxpayer more than £200 million.
Yesterday, sources in Northern Ireland claimed inquiry chairman Lord Saville’s conclusions would be ‘very bad’ for the Army and lead to files on the actions of soldiers and their officers being referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Final report: Lord Saville was asked to lead the inquiry by Tony Blair
Lord Saville has been examining what happen in Londonderry on January 30, 1972 when 14 civilians were shot dead by paratroopers during a banned civil rights march – amid claims that IRA snipers had attacked the troops.
Mr Blair set up the investigation in January 1998 and it heard its first oral evidence in November 2000, with soldiers allowed to give testimony anonymously because of fears for their safety.
Its 5,000-page report will be published on June 15. In what became known to Republicans as the Bogside Massacre, 27 protesters were shot by members of the Parachute Regiment, with 13 men, including seven teenagers, killed and another man dying from his wounds four-and-a-half months later.
Two protesters were injured when they were run down by Army vehicles and many witnesses, including journalists, testified that all those shot were unarmed. Five of the wounded were shot in the back.
The Northern Ireland sources suggest the inquiry will conclude that some of the killings were unlawful, leading to a legal debate over whether charges can be brought so long after the events.
An unlawful killing verdict has seemed the most likely outcome after several unlikely witnesses suggested that innocent people had been killed.
In May 2007, former Army chief General Sir Mike Jackson, who served as a Captain in the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry on the day of the shootings, said he had come to the conclusion that soldiers shot dead innocent people on Bloody Sunday.
Sir Mike, who also served as the Regiment’s adjutant at the time, did not take part in the shootings but took statements from soldiers who did.
He told the inquiry: ‘Far from being an attempt to rewrite history, the direction [soldiers’ statements] I received was clearly an attempt to record what had happened. Further, I had been present and had a grasp of events overall.
'I am sure it would have been clear to me if anyone was not telling the truth.'
'I am sure it would have been clear to me if anyone was not telling me the truth.’
Previously Sir Mike had insisted that those shot dead had been involved in IRA activity during the civil rights march.
The late RUC Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, who was in charge of policing in the city at the time, said in evidence that he met the then commander of British land forces, General Robert Ford, and the Army’s most senior officer in Londonderry, Brigadier Pat MacLellan, on Bloody Sunday.
Ch Supt Lagan, who died in 2005, claimed General Ford ‘turned his back’ on him when he attempted to tell him that he had received a message that the marchers would not attempt to confront soldiers.
And former Army Colonel Tim Collins claimed that a rifle used by soldiers on Bloody Sunday was found during an SAS operation in Sierra Leone. The rifle had been declared ‘destroyed’ by the Ministry of Defence along with 13 of the 29 rifles fired by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday.
Face off: Soldiers and demonstrators in Londonderry on January 30, 1972, when 14 civilians were shot dead
The Counsel to the Inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, said it was not known which soldiers had carried out the majority of the fatal shootings.
He also criticised the Army’s planning in the days before the march, saying it was left to more junior officers by General Ford. Lawyers representing some of the families of those killed have said the evidence to the inquiry suggests some of those involved must be prosecuted.
Greg McCartney, a solicitor who represents the relatives of victim James Wray, warned that if Lord Saville did not make a finding of unlawful killing, or murder, then the inquiry would be rejected as a whitewash.
That was the fate of a tribunal conducted immediately after Bloody Sunday by Lord Widgery.
Last night a Northern Ireland office spokesman said new Secretary of State Owen Paterson had not yet received the final report.