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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 14:00 GMT
Marchers' innocence questioned
General Ford (L) pictured in July 1972 in Northern Ireland
General said he was observer on Bloody Sunday
The British Army's most senior officer present on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry has said Prime Minister Tony Blair "jumped the gun" when he said the civilians shot were innocent.

General Sir Robert Ford made the comment when he was continuing to give evidence to the inquiry investigating the shooting dead of 13 civilians at a civil rights march by paratroops in Londonderry on 30 January 1972.

When Mr Blair announced the new inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in 1998, he said those who died should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot while handling guns or explosives.

On Tuesday, General Ford told the inquiry sitting in London that he was concerned by the remark.

General Ford pictured in July 1972 in Northern Ireland
General Ford (L) said he was observer on Bloody Sunday

He said the prime minister should have reserved judgement until the inquiry's conclusion.

Under questioning from Michael Mansfield QC, representing some of the families, General Ford said he was not in a position to explain why the people were shot, but he said all the evidence suggested there was a gun battle.

The new inquiry was set up after campaigning by relatives of those killed and injured who felt that the Widgery Inquiry, held shortly after the shootings, did not get to the truth.

The paratroopers who carried out the shootings have always maintained that they were fired on by the IRA before they opened fire.

But this has been disputed by civilian witnesses, medical personnel and former IRA members who have already given evidence to the inquiry.

'Observer'

General Ford was present at the illegal march on 30 January 1972 which became Bloody Sunday.

But he has told the inquiry that he was there only as an observer and was not responsible for operations on the ground on the day.

Earlier, Mr Mansfield was asked why he had not seen many of the incidents alleged to have taken place on Bloody Sunday.

General Ford replied: "I cannot explain it, except that I believe somewhere in my statement it says that I was in the back of the Embassy Ballroom for a time having discussions."

Mr Mansfield asked the General: "And was it your view, therefore, in 1972, basically that nothing had gone wrong?"

The General replied: "I did not know whether it had gone wrong or not and it was not for me to anticipate what the solution was going to be or the answer was going to be."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Paul McCauley
"General Ford said he believed the prime minister was jumping the gun"
Find out more about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry


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04 Nov 02 | N Ireland
30 Oct 02 | N Ireland
29 Oct 02 | N Ireland
21 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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