Bloody Sunday inquiry: 'We always knew the dead were innocent'

Relatives gather at Derry Guildhall to hear verdict that brings relief and delight as report exonerates every victim

One after another, outside the Guildhall in Derrytoday , the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday expressed delight at the long-awaited Saville report and their satisfaction that their loved ones' reputations had been rescued from 38 years of official condemnation.

Those who squeezed into the crowded square to hear the families deliver their verdict on the report stood where the army had barred civil rights demonstrators from entering the city centre on 30 January 1972. Two thumbs-up signs from someone inside the Guildhall had given an indication of the favourable response.

Black and white pictures of the victims were displayed on the platform as the families filed out from their reading of the 60-page report. A minute's silence was observed in memory of the fallen.

"It can now be proclaimed to the world that the dead and the wounded of Bloody Sunday, civil rights marchers, one and all, were innocent, one and all, gunned down on their own streets by soldiers who had been given to believe that they could kill with perfect impunity," said Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was shot dead by the Paras.

"It was the paratroopers' mission in Derry to massacre. Bloody Sunday wounded Derry very, very badly. We may hope that from today we can begin to bind those wounds.

"When the state kills its citizens it is in the interests of all that those responsible be held to account. It is not just Derry, or one section of the people, but democracy itself which needs to look out."

At each mention of the victims' innocence, the applause swelled, reverberating between the city's 17th-century walls and the Guildhall.

A copy of the hated report by Lord Widgery – published six weeks after the massacre – which accused the victims of firing weapons or handling bombs was ripped apart by Jean Hegarty, whose brother was killed.

"My brother was running away from the soldiers when he was shot," Joe Duddy said of his brother, Jackie. "At the time he was posing no threat. [The Widgery report] destroyed our loved ones' good names. Today we clear them. I'm delighted to say that Jackie was innocent."

Several families quoted the Saville report, exultant that it specifically cleared the victims of the taint of being gunmen or bombers.

Catherine Kelly, whose younger brother, Michael died, said: "The wait has been almost 40 years. Today the truth has been told. I say to my little brother Michael, at last you can rest in peace forever."

Kate Nash, whose brother William died in the Bogside, said: "Thirty-eight years ago a story went around the world concocted by General Mike Jackson. He said there was gunmen and bombers on our streets and they were shot.

"Today that lie has been uncovered. My brother William knew he was innocent. We have always known he was innocent. Now the world knows."

Relatives of the victims are adamant that if Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service decides not to proceed with prosecutions, they could begin civil cases against the paratroopers.

John Kelly, the brother of Michael, told the crowd: "For us what matters above all else, what has been in our constant thought all these years, is the innocence of our loved ones.

"Everything else fades into insignificance compared to the fact that those shot down on Bloody Sunday were ordinary, decent Derry people. That's the verdict we wanted. That's the verdict we have today. That will be the verdict of history for all time."

Kelly said he would like to see the prosecutions of the soldiers involved, saying that the paratrooper who killed Michael – identified as Soldier F in the inquiry hearings – was a "serial killer". Mickey McKinney, whose brother Willie, 27, was shot dead, said: "We want the truth – a declaration of innocence and a recommendation that those responsible are prosecuted."

Others have indicated they would want the paratroopers to stand trial but would not want the soldiers to be jailed.

Jean Hegarty, whose 17-year-old brother Kevin McElhinney was shot as he crawled to safety, said: "Jail isn't something I can see happening. That wouldn't, in any way, bother me, I have no great desire to see a 60-year-old man go to jail."

Leo Young, now 65, had accompanied his younger brother John on the march . His mother's last words were to ask him to look after John, then 17. It was the last time the family was together.

Today Leo Young was at the Bogside memorial in the morning with the relatives of other victims and marched in silence through the streets where the army had once erected its barricades and paratroopers had shot into the crowd.

"I went to the Saville inquiry here and in London," he recalled. "I always said I had great faith in him. His report repays us for that faith. Saville says John was innocent. He has proved it to the eyes of the world. It has done my heart good. I'm quite content now with the way it is."

"Heading to the Guildhall was like walking to the gallows. We were so anxious. But when we sat down our lawyers' reassured us that everything was all right. We were delighted.

"It would be wonderful for my mother and father to have seen this day."

He said he had become separated from his younger brother as the march progressed: "He was away with his pals. My mother had asked me to keep my eyes on him but that was a massive crowd.

"We became parted. John was on the barricade in Rossville Street. William Nash was shot beside him and John crawled out to try and help. Someone tried to get their hand on the back of his coat to pull him back to safety.

"The soldiers could just see his head and shot him through the eye. The bullet travelled down and broke his spine.

"He was a nice fella. He was doing what he wanted, training as apprentice tailor. He didn't deserve to be shot. I will be going up to the city cemetery, where my mother and father and John are buried. To reassure them that he was innocent when he died."


Owen Bowcott

The GuardianTramp

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