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Peter Hadden

Derry murders condoned

The Widgery whitewash

(April 1972)

From Militant, No. 102, 28 April 1972.
Copied with thanks from the Socialism Today Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We reprint below an article from issue No. 102 of the Militant, 28 April 1972, written as the Widgery report was published, by the now sadly departed PETER HADDEN, then a member of Belfast Young Socialists.

THE PUBLICATION of the Widgery report has given the people of Northern Ireland yet another taste of ‘impartial’ British justice. Quietly ignoring the statements made by the people of the Bogside, by numerous journalists and the wealth of medical evidence which corroborates these, Widgery has laid the responsibility for the 13 deaths on Bloody Sunday on the IRA [Irish Republican Army] for firing first, and on the Civil Rights Association for organising the march.

All this has been done much to the delight of the British press. According to the Daily Mail (20 April 1972): “British troops did not fire first; the paras did not panic; our men did not fire indiscriminately and without provocation into the backs of the fleeing crowd”. Those who feel fit to make such sweeping statements would do well to re-examine the evidence submitted to the inquiry before Lord Widgery and his staff set about to annihilate it.

In general, the tribunal’s findings are based upon the canopy of lies submitted by the army as evidence. Widgery’s grounds for accepting the army claim that they were fired on first, against a mountain of evidence to the contrary, are simply that “there was no reason to suppose the soldiers would have opened fire”.

One soldier actually described the firing from the flats as “the most intensive he had seen in Northern Ireland in such a short space of time”. (Irish Times, 20 April 1972) Yet what has not been explained about this phantom fire is why no soldiers were injured (except for one who shot himself in the foot) and why no evidence of hits scored on military vehicles, etc, was produced. All Widgery has to say about this is that it was due to the superior field-craft and training of the army!

Widgery’s case, when laid bare, is really nothing more than a bald conviction that ‘our men’ wouldn’t do such a thing. In reaching his conclusions, he has ignored the twists and turns in the army statements both before and during the tribunal. Initially, the army claimed to have been fired on from the lower floors of the Rossville flats. Then, realising that this would not explain why all the dead men were on the ground, they changed the line and announced that the gunmen were on the ground.

When this was put to General Ford during the inquiry, he hedged the question by replying: “That’s not the correct answer”.

McSparran (counsel): “But it certainly looks that way, doesn’t it?”

Widgery: “Comment”.

General Ford agreed that the events in Derry had been a major incident.

McSparran: “Wasn’t it important to you to invent an excuse for the excesses of the parachute regiment on 30 January?”

Ford: “The army does not invent excuses”. (Irish Times, 4 March 1972)

This object lesson in evasiveness is only matched by the rest of the army case. If the army “does not invent excuses”, why did Ford lie and instruct his officers to lie about four of the dead being on the ‘wanted list’ when, as he later admitted (after the accusation had been withdrawn), he had never seen this ‘wanted list’?

Does the action of the lieutenant, who admitted to having lied on television about seeing gunmen and bombers, not amount to ‘inventing excuses’? These questions find no answer in the pages of Widgery. In reaching his conclusions, Widgery has not only ignored the evidence of eyewitnesses and doctors. He has ignored the actual findings of his own report.

In not one case has he produced a scrap of evidence to prove that any of the dead were either gunmen or nail-bombers. Unable to prove anything, he attempts to leave the issue open to doubt. Even where all the evidence points to cold-blooded killing, Widgery still leans over backwards to exonerate the troops. Jack Duddy, we are told, was killed by a bullet aimed at someone else. The soldier who shot Patrick Docherty mistakenly thought he had a pistol!

As with his predecessor in the art of the cover-up, Sir Edward Compton, Widgery manages to disprove none of the evidence submitted against the army. Atrocities are not denied, they are explained away. Faced with the fact that 13 innocent men were shot down in cold blood, Widgery merely proclaims that some of the firing “bordered on the reckless”!

The relatives of the dead men will hardly thank this English aristocrat for this painful admission. Instead, the memories of what actually happened will serve to cut across all of Widgery’s feeble pronouncements.

The case of James Wray, shot twice in the back as he attempted to raise himself from the ground, to Widgery, might be simply ‘reckless fire’. So, too, might the murders witnessed by Italian journalist, Fulvio Grimaldi:

“I saw a man and his son crossing the street, trying to get to safety, with their hands on their heads. They were shot dead. The man got shot dead. The son, I think, was dying. I saw a young fellow who had been wounded, crouching against the wall. He was shouting: ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot’. A paratrooper approached and shot him from about one yard”. (Massacre at Derry, Civil Rights Association pamphlet)

The people of Northern Ireland, who have faced the brunt of military repression, will have no time for this report. No section of the Northern working class, whether Catholic or Protestant, can afford to ignore the lessons of what really happened in Derry.

Since Bloody Sunday, through the murder of Joe McCann [an IRA member gunned down on 15 April 1972], the paras have given the people of Belfast a taste of the Derry medicine. According to those who witnessed this killing, McCann was shot first in the leg and then riddled with bullets as he tried to stumble away. The army have not denied this. In fact, they have refused to comment on the shooting for the incredible reason that an inquest will be held at a later date. In other words, they have no explanation as to whey they fired twelve shots at an injured, unarmed man whom, if they had wanted, they could easily have captured.

McCann’s murder and the subsequent battles which raged across the province, gives the lie to those who argued that direct rule would provide some kind of wonder cure. The army methods, in particular those of the paras, are the same today as on Bloody Sunday.

Only the immediate withdrawal of all the troops, the disbandment of the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and UDR [Ulster Defence Regiment], and their replacement by a defence force based on the organisations of the working class, can provide any solution. The call for the ending of military tyranny and the creation of a trade union defence force, linked to an overall socialist programme, is the only worthwhile answer the labour movement.

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