LONDON // The killing by British soldiers of 14 demonstrators in Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday in 1972 was "both unjustified and unjustifiable", the British prime minister, David Cameron, declared today. He told MPs that the longest and most expensive judicial inquiry in UK history had found that the order to send members of the Parachute Regiment into the Bogside area of Derry in Northern Ireland "should not have been given". The inquiry, chaired over the past 12 years by Lord Saville, found that 13 people had died that day and another 15 wounded, one of whom died five months later, because soldiers "lost their self control", the House of Commons heard.
None of those shot had been armed, no warning was given by the soldiers and half of those who died had been teenagers. "I am deeply, deeply sorry," Mr Cameron said. The events of January 30, 1972, have been a festering sore in relations between the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities for almost four decades. Across the world, the killings caused outrage. They marked the end of the non-violent campaign for civil rights in Northern Ireland and led to a dramatic upsurge in terrorist recruits to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a consequent increase in the violence that, in 30 years of "the troubles", was to claim more than 3,500 lives.
The Saville inquiry report, released this afternoon, concluded that members of the Parachute Regiment committed "unjustified and unjustifiable" killings of unarmed and innocent victims and then lied about it. The inquiry heard from 921 witnesses and studied 2,500 written statements and 60 volumes of written evidence about the shootings, which happened during a march organised to protest against the internment without trial of IRA suspects. It said that the soldiers should never have been ordered to confront the protesters, that they fired the first shots and that they targeted unarmed people who were clearly fleeing or aiding the helpless wounded. None of those killed or wounded that day in Derry had posed a threat to the soldiers, Lord Saville said. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, authorised by the former British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 in the run-up to the negotiation of the Good Friday peace accord that year, was originally budgeted to cost £11 million and report findings by 2002. Instead, the final bill was estimated at nearly £200m, making it the longest and most expensive inquiry in British legal history. Mr Cameron said Britain would never attempt anything like it again.
The British, Irish and U.S. governments welcomed the findings as priceless to heal one of the gaping wounds left from Northern Ireland's four-decade conflict, which left 3,700 dead. Bloody Sunday fuelled a rise in support for the IRA, which did not announce a cease-fire until 1997, after killing nearly 1,800 people. However, while Lord Saville gave the paratroopers who provided evidence to the inquiry broad protections from criminal charges as well as anonymity in the witness box, because of the risk that IRA dissidents might target them in retaliation, some legal experts said there was the possibility of prosecutions and, more likely, civil lawsuits against retired soldiers now in their 60s and 70s, particularly because some ex-soldiers were found to have told lies to the inquiry. The inquiry declared that several soldiers who opened fire concocted cover stories to justify their shooting of unarmed people in the back. But Lord Saville cautioned that the inquiry's evidence could not be used "to incriminate that witness in any later criminal proceedings."
"This does not rule out the possibility of future criminal proceedings against an individual, but only means that their own evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry cannot be used against them," Lord Saville wrote. In Derry, more than 1,000 residents applauded, hugged and cried outside city hall as the long-awaited verdict was announced live on a huge television screen. They had campaigned for 38 years for the victims, originally branded as RA bombers and gunmen, to have their good names restored and the guilt of the soldiers proved beyond doubt. * With additional reporting by the Associated Press