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 Wednesday, 1 January, 2003, 00:43 GMT
Heath warned over Bloody Sunday Paras
Edward Heath winning the 1970 General Election
Edward Heath: Prime Minister 1970-74

Former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath was warned days before the fatal Bloody Sunday march in Londonderry that soldiers being sent to the city had already "over-reacted" at civil rights protests.

You may wish to question the Secretary of State for Defence about recent suggestions in the press and on television that the army over-reacted against some of the civil rights demonstrations last weekend

Sir Burke Trend
According to papers released under the 30-year-rule, the former prime minister's most senior official asked him whether or not he was prepared for the consequences of action by the military against protesters in Northern Ireland.

The papers also reveal Sir Edward told the judge investigating how the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 people at the march that he should not forget the UK was fighting a "propaganda war".

Much of this material has already been given in statements to the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Sir Edward, 86, was expected to give evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry before taking ill late last year.

Briefings before march

The papers confirm that four days before the march, Sir Edward received a security briefing on the march, organised to protest against internment, a form of imprisonment without trial introduced at the height of the political and civil crisis.

The PM's papers on Bloody Sunday
PM's papers: Include republican newspaper
In his memo to the prime minister, Cabinet secretary Sir Burke Trend, the most senior civil servant, recommended Mr Heath review the activities of the Parachute Regiment which was being moved to Derry as part of the operation.

"You may wish to question the Secretary of State for Defence about recent suggestions in the press and on television that the army over-reacted against some of the civil rights demonstrations last weekend," wrote Sir Burke.

"And that, in particular, soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, by being unnecessarily rough, have gratuitously provoked resentment among peaceful elements of the Roman Catholic population."

Military strategy for the day was being set by a special committee of key departments including the Ministry of Defence and Home Office.

Sir Burke warned Sir Edward there was a "graver issue of the attitude to be adopted by the security forces" in the face of continued civil disobedience.

"Are we able - and prepared to deal with that situation?" he asked.

"Perhaps the question should be explored urgently with [Northern Ireland prime minister] Mr Faulkner during his visit to London."

The conclusion of that military strategy committee and Sir Edward's expected meeting with Brian Faulkner are not in the papers released this January.

Public statement plan

According to the papers, officials drafted a public statement for Mr Faulkner which underlined the illegality of the march in order "to prepare public opinion here and in Northern Ireland for violence scenes on TV following the march".

"Experience this year has shown that attempted marches often end in violence that must have been foreseen by the organisers," said Sir Burke in a further memo.

"Clearly responsibility for this violence and the consequences of it must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those who encourage people to break the law."

Minutes of the conversation with Lord Widgery
Minutes of the conversation with Lord Widgery

Following the deaths, the government appointed Lord Widgery, Chief Justice of England, to lead the inquiry.

Sir Edward met Lord Widgery at Downing Street immediately after his appointment was announced to parliament.

According to the minutes, Sir Edward told the judge that a public inquiry was "not realistic" for security reasons.

"It had to be remembered that we were in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war," Sir Edward told Lord Widgery.

The minutes reveal Lord Widgery told the prime minister the inquiry would be a "fact finding" exercise but give no other details of his reaction.

On 7 February 1972, a letter from Downing Street to Defence officials reveals Sir Edward feared the Parachute Regiment would face a propaganda onslaught from critics if Lord Widgery did not take soldiers' evidence first.

"There might be a lot to be said for the Army to be given an opportunity to set out its own facts early on," said the letter. "The Prime Minister would be grateful if urgent consideration could be given to this point."

Family's demands

Families of those killed at the march have long demanded to know how much Sir Edward Heath knew of the Army's planned tactics for the day.

One family recently withdrew an allegation that the government had suppressed documents relating to the former prime minister.

Martin Dillon, a writer on Northern Ireland, recently gave a statement to the inquiry saying the then head of the Army, General Sir Michael Carver was told by Sir Edward Heath that it was legal to shoot protesters in certain situations.

Papers released under the 30 year rule reveal Heath government plans to expel hundreds of Catholics from NI and create a Protestant-only province

NI secrets revealed

Previous revelations

Background

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