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Monday, 6 April, 1998, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Bloody Sunday - Jan 30, 1972
Father Daly
Father Daly waves a white hankerchief as others tend to the dying 'Jackie' Duddy
On January 30, 1972, members of the First Battalion of the Parachute regiment shot dead 13 marchers following disturbances during a civil rights march in Londonderry (referred to as Derry by nationalists) in Northern Ireland. Another protester died later, bringing the total to 14. The shooting lasted for just half an hour but had a catastrophic effect on what had become known as 'the troubles'.

Map of the events on January 30, 1972

The IRA had agreed not to be present during the march
An inquiry was held shortly after 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 trouble-makers.

Nationalists have demanded a fresh inquiry ever since and have made it known that an apology alone would not suffice. The Irish Government, Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP see a new inquiry as vital to the peace process.

In 1997 the Irish government presented new evidence to the British Government in the hope that it may have facilitated a fresh investigation. It was widely believed that both Mr Blair and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, were sympathetic to the idea.

British soldier
Soldiers lived in fear of sniper fire
During the last Conservative government, ministers refused to either apologise or set up an inquiry although the former Prime Minister, John Major, did concede, while in office, that the 14 "should be regarded as innocent". Dr Mowlam's predecessor, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said in 1997 that "an apology is for criminal wrongdoing and there is nothing in the Widgery report to support that, and therefore it would be wrong." Conservatives are expected to oppose the new inquiry.

There has been a march through Derry on each anniversary of Bloody Sunday but in the last few years the campaign to have the day's events re-examined has gathered momentum - especially as many believe it would be a good confidence-building measure in the peace process.

Col. Derek Wilford, who led the Paratroopers on that day has told Mr Blair not to apologise and said that his soldiers "behaved according to the very best standards of keeping the peace".

What happened?

IRA man
The IRA ran 'Free Derry'
A civil rights march had been organised for Sunday January 30, 1972 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 in the staunchly nationalist Bogside area of Derry. Between 20,000 and 30,000 marchers gathered at around two o'clock in the afternoon. Initially the atmosphere was good-humoured although the possibility of trouble was never far away.

People who took part in the march say that 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 members of the IRA would, as residents of the area, take part as ordinary marchers and stewards.

The trouble started at about 4 o'clock
The marchers planned to head for the centre of Derry but were not surprised to find their way blocked by the British Army in a move that was approved both at Stormont and Westminster. 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, it was run by the IRA who openly patrolled, flaunted their weapons and had their own rule of law.

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. Col. Wilford was said there was no way that his men would have stood 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.

According to eyewitnesses and reports from the time, the first shot was fired at four o'clock 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 IRA presence in the area, and that they were armed. 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 five past four in the afternoon, the First Battalion of the Paratroop regiment were given the order to cross the containment line and round up the trouble-makers.

What happened over the next 30-40 minutes has never been clearly established. The soldiers say they came under fire when they crossed the line, other witnesses say they did not. A local priest, Father Edward Daly (later to became the Bishop of Derry) and who administered the last rites to many of the dead has no qualms about saying the protesters were murdered.

Lord Widgery's report states that: "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 ever produced were four nail bombs. No guns were ever found and it was never proven that any of the dead had been in contact with any weapons.

The then Irish Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, condemned the killings at once as an "unwarranted attack on unarmed civilians". Demonstrators burned down the British Embassy in Dublin on February 2.

The Widgery report came out in April 1972 by which time the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, had suspended the Stormont parliament due to the escalating troubles and imposed direct rule form Westminster. The report was met with disbelief in the Republic and in the nationalist community in the north.


Father Edward Daly gives his version of the events on the day itself (1'08")

Video: The BBC's Northern Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray reports (2'38")
Links to more Bloody Sunday stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Bloody Sunday stories

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