David Cameron, former Prime Minister, told BBC Northern Ireland this week of the huge responsibility he felt when choosing the wording of his apology for Bloody Sunday to Parliament in June 2010. His task was made much easier by Saville’s decision to target the blame at the soldiers on the ground and their renegade Colonel.
In her compelling new book,’ On Bloody Sunday’ , journalist and historian , Julie Ann Campbell , includes transcripts of dispatches on the day between soldiers on the ground and their base commanders which make clear that the Army intention was to send the Paras in hard. She also includes details of the discussions which took place at the highest levels of the MOD in the week before the March , including a request from the local Chief Superintendent of Police, Frank Lagan, that the Parachute regiment should not be deployed on the Sunday. She also quotes General Robert Ford’s assertion that ‘selected ringleaders would need to be shot’ , if rioting was to be tackled effectively. A memo from the then Prime Minister, Ted Heath, on January 11th , 1972 , makes clear that arrangements for the policing of the Civil Rights March were discussed at the highest levels of Government in 10 Downing Street. It is incontestable , given the evidence in the Saville Report, that Government, the MOD and senior security personnel were fully briefed on the proposals to deploy the Paras to police a civil rights demonstration.
For the friends and families of the victims, their immediate hurt, quite obviously, was the death of loved ones, but the pain was prolonged for another forty years by the slanderous version of events as characterised by the Ministry of Defence . The author of that fiction was Captain Michael Jackson of the Paras who was present in Derry on January 30th. His lies became the official version of the massacre and was rubber stamped by the Widgery whitewash. Afterwards, he enjoyed a meteoric career in the army ; so much so, that on the date of publication of Saville’s Report , he was General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief-of-Staff – the highest ranking officer in the British forces and a secure member of the establishment. In his first evidence to the Saville Inquiry, he was unable to recall much of what happened on the day except that the soldiers on the ground had been shot at and returned fire. Saville would later dismiss his evidence as unacceptable. However, he was recalled to a second appearance after another army officer had brought a document, in Jackson’s handwriting, to the Inquiry; this was the notorious ‘shot list’ , a fictitious account of the day’s events which Jackson had concocted , immediately after the killings with those who had fired weapons on the day. From the evidence of the Inquiry, quite clearly Jackson had a lot of questions to answer.
However, Lord Saville was selective in his apportioning of responsibility; he evaded pointing a finger at the UK’s highest military officer, despite the evidence of his involvement in the cover-up; he did not cite those who had discussed and planned the security arrangements for the event at the highest levels of Government but rather he blamed the massacre exclusively on those who had fired the fatal shots, the squaddies, the lower orders, the deplorables.
It was both a class and a political decision.
That certainly eased the way for David Cameron’s apology.