Inquiry: Bloody Sunday Killings Were Unjust

An inquiry in Britain into the killing of civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland by British troops in 1972 has concluded that all the victims were innocent. Fourteen people died in Londonderry in the events that became known as "Bloody Sunday." At the time, the British army said the protesters had been armed or carrying improvised bombs. Almost 40 years later, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Tuesday that members of the British armed forces had acted wrongly, and had given false evidence to justify opening fire.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Thirty-eight years ago, British soldiers fired on Catholic civil rights protestors in Londonderry in Northern Ireland. It became known as Bloody Sunday. The events of that day left 14 dead and contributed to decades of sectarian strife.

T: All the victims were innocent. Vicki Barker reports from London.

VICKI BARKER: The English judge, Lord Saville, spent 12 years and nearly $300 million reconstructing the events of that January day in 1972. His conclusion: British soldiers in Northern Ireland knowingly fired on unarmed demonstrators and then lied about it. Today, nearly 40 years later, Britain's new prime minister, David Cameron, stood before Parliament and apologized.

P: There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.

BARKER: Cameron's statement was shown on video screens to a large crowd outside Londonderry's town hall while TV helicopters circled overhead. As he read out Lord Saville's conclusions and the magnitude of the findings became clear, there were tears and sobs from the crowd.

P: He finds that on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army. He finds that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries, but none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties. And he finds that in no case was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire.

BARKER: The horror of that day was rekindled. One victim was shot in the face, another in the back as he crawled away. A father was gunned down as he bent over his dying son. Lord Saville found nothing to support the soldiers' sometimes inconsistent claims that the victims were armed with nail or gasoline bombs.

Then, the crowd in Londonderry heard a roll call of the vindicated dead.

U: Barney McGuigan posed no threat whatsoever and would be celebrating his 80th birthday tomorrow. The truth is Barney is innocent.

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BARKER: Kate Nash(ph) lost her father and her brother.

BLOCK: My brother William, we know he was innocent. We've always known. Now the world knows.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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BARKER: Lord Saville said British soldiers had given false testimony to justify the shootings. He found no evidence that Bloody Sunday was part of a deliberate conspiracy.

The judge did not use words like murder or unlawful killing. David Cameron said that was a matter for public prosecutors to decide.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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