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banner Friday, 24 March, 2000, 17:25 GMT
Bloody Sunday: Tension and tragedy
Bloody Sunday march
The marchers were protesting over the policy of internment
On January 30, 1972, soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute regiment shot dead 13 marchers following disturbances during a civil rights march in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Lord Widgery
Lord Widgery concluded the soldiers had been fired on first
Another protester died later, bringing the total to 14. The shooting lasted for half an hour and had a catastrophic effect on what had become known as the Troubles.

Following the tragedy an inquiry was announced under the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery.

To the astonishment of the nationalist community, the soldiers were exonerated, although Widgery did conclude that some of the firing had "bordered on the reckless".

The report also concluded that the soldiers had opened fire after they had been fired upon by IRA gunmen while trying to arrest troublemakers.

Protest against internment
soldiers advance
The soldiers were exonerated by the inquiry in 1972

The civil rights march was organised by the Derry Civil Rights Association. Its purpose was to protest against the policy of internment without trial which had been introduced the previous summer.

All such marches were banned by the Stormont Parliament at that time.

The march began on the Creggan Estate area of Derry. Approximately 10,000 marchers gathered at about 2pm. Initially the atmosphere was good-humoured.

People who took part in the march say its organisers had met senior figures from the Provisional IRA in advance and asked them not to participate and to take their weapons out of the area.

The provisionals apparently agreed to let the march go ahead without their involvement, although some IRA members would, as residents of the area, take part as ordinary marchers and stewards.

'Aunt Sallies'

The marchers planned to head for the centre of Derry but found their way blocked by British Army soldiers. There was a containment line that divided "Free Derry" from the city centre and it was here that soldiers were often pelted with stones. It was known as Aggro Corner.

"Free Derry" was a no-go area for the British forces. The paratroopers had been drafted in from Belfast to help with the containment and were astonished to find that an area like "Free Derry" could exist.

Colonel Wilford, who was commanding the paratroopers, said there was no way that his men would stand there to be pelted like "Aunt Sallies" in the same manner as the regular soldiers. They were ordered to arrest any troublemakers who tried to cross the containment line.

First shot
body
Thirteen civilians were killed by British paratroopers
According to witnesses and reports from the time, the first shot was fired at 4pm and it was fired at the soldiers, not by them.

It struck a drainpipe, but to the soldiers, it confirmed their view that there was an armed IRA presence in the area. Soldiers in the area lived in fear of sniper fire.

Shortly after the shot was fired the marchers encountered the barriers preventing them from entering the city centre. They turned into the Bogside area but some protesters, angered by the military presence, broke away and began to pelt the soldiers.

Shortly after 4.05pm, the paratroopers were given the order to cross the containment line into the Bogside and round up the troublemakers.

What happened over the next 20 minutes has never been clearly established. The soldiers say they came under fire, other witnesses say they did not.

Embassy attack
FAther Daly
Civil rights marcher Father Daly condemned the killings
The then Irish Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, condemned the killings at once as an "unwarranted attack on unarmed civilians".

In response to what became known as Bloody Sunday, outraged demonstrators in the Irish Republic burnt down the British Embassy in Dublin a few days later.

The official IRA also bombed the Parachute Regiment's barracks in Aldershot, Hampshire, killing seven civilians.

On 24 March, UK Prime Minister Edward Heath suspended the Stormont Parliament and imposed direct rule from Westminster - initially for 12 months, in practice for more than 25 years. Bloody Sunday was as a crucial factor in this decision.

Inquiry controversy

Mr Heath immediately announced an inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

Lord Widgery's report was published in April 1972 and was met with disbelief in the Republic of Ireland and in the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

It stated: "Civilian, as well as Army evidence made it clear that there was a substantial number of civilians in the area who were armed with firearms."

The only weapons produced were four nail bombs. No guns were found and it was never proven that any of the dead had been in contact with any weapons.

For the next 26 years nationalists continued to demand a fresh inquiry. Each year they held a march through Derry on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

In 1997 the Irish Government presented a dossier of research on Bloody Sunday to London which it said contained new evidence.

In January 1998 UK Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a fresh inquiry to examine the events of Bloody Sunday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
General Ford:
The British commander says his men were fired upon
Lord Widgery:
Explains the terms of his inquiry into Bloody Sunday
Bernadette Devlin MP:
Physically attacks the Home Secretary Reginald Maudling
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