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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
'Soldier fired at me' journalist tells inquiry
Bloody Sunday
Fourteen civilians died after being shot on Bloody Sunday
A former journalist has told the Bloody Sunday inquiry that the believes a British Army soldier fired a shot at him.

Former Guardian newspaper journalist Simon Winchester attended the tribunal in Londonderry on Monday.

He said he saw one soldier go down on his knee who appeared to fire his gun.

He said he then heard the sound of masonry being chipped from the Derry walls and took it that the soldier had fired at him.

I have this distinct recollection of a soldier firing in my direction and hearing the distinct sound of masonry falling out of the wall

Simon Winchester

The inquiry is investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 13 civilians shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in Londonderry on 30 January 1972.

Another man died later from his injuries.

Mr Winchester said he was standing near the Derry walls, overlooking the Bogside, when he saw soldiers at Glenfada Park.

He was later shown his accounts of the shooting from 29 years ago which placed it in another part of the Bogside.

He said: "I just have this distinct recollection, I accept it could be fanciful - there was a lot happening - but my recollection is of a soldier firing in my direction and hearing the distinct sound of masonry falling out of the wall."

'Arrested by the IRA'

Mr Winchester, who is now a freelance writer and journalist based in New York, also described being "arrested" by the IRA in the months after Bloody Sunday.

He said he was admonished for reporting that the IRA fired the first shot that day.

He said he was taken prisoner with a colleague while at a dance in Rathmullan, County Donegal.

He added: "A more senior member of the group was brought from a house nearby who identified me.

"He said, 'He is the fellow who reported for the Guardian on Bloody Sunday, he is all right, except he made the foolish mistake of saying we fired the first shot. We did not. Let that be a warning to you'."

Mr Winchester admitted having been, in retrospect, "a useful mouthpiece" for the Army.

He said the Army "for some extraordinary reason" was ready with information about the IRA for him, knowing he had friends and contacts in the Provisional IRA and militant loyalist groups.

'A useful mouthpiece'

He said he could ring up Brigadier Kitson - author of the influential military strategic handbook Low Intensity Operations - for information.

"He would tell me without demur and give me chapter and verse about who the person was and the rank and position of the person in the IRA.

"I would then go on the World At One, seemingly blessed with profound knowledge about the inner workings of the IRA, parroting what Frank Kitson had told me.

"So I know, in retrospect, that I was a useful mouthpiece which as I say surprises me somewhat because of my relatively intimate knowledge of the IRA from my contacts with them.

"But that remained true for my two-and-a-half years in Northern Ireland, the Army was very eager and keen to me," he added.

Mr Winchester confirmed he was forced to flee a meeting with the IRA in December 1971 because he was accused of being an Army spy by the then IRA chief of staff, Sean MacStiofain, who died last week.

Questioned by lawyers representing the soldiers, he said: "Sean MacStiofain and I did not see eye to eye."

Mr MacStiofain was the IRA's chief of staff between 1970 and 1973 and died on Thursday, aged 73.

The Bloody Sunday inquiry was established in 1998, is chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate and is expected to run for another two years.

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