By Theo Russell
Setting the Truth Free: the inside story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, by Julieann Campbell. Liberties Press, Dublin, rrp £13.99.
THE 38-year struggle for justice for the victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six campaigns, exposed the true nature of British justice – upholding class bigotry and colonial oppression.
Julieann Campbell, the niece of one of the victims who works for the Bloody Sunday Trust and Free Derry Museum, has brought together a mass of material in a remarkable new book that reveals just how hard that struggle was.
After the shootings and Widgery Report the families and wounded were branded as terrorists, received loyalist death threats, and faced constant army raids and harassment.
Even in 1997 relative Gerry Duddy was still stopped and searched at British airports, while he and Troops Out Movement stalwart Mary Pearson received multiple death threats from the National Front.
It was only after the release of the Guildford Four in 1989 that the families realised justice was possible and began to organise. Sinn Féin had run annual commemorations, but was happy to hand the campaign back to the families.
But campaigner and journalist Eammon McCann said that after the British Parliament accepted Widgery: “In my secret heart I couldn’t see any mechanism whereby that could be overthrown.”
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the biggest nationalist party in Derry, and the political establishment in Dublin, shunned the campaign for years. In 1992, when every Irish TD (Member of Parliament) and senator was invited to the launch of a new book by Eammon McCann in Dublin, only one independent TD responded.
That year Irish president Mary Robinson laid a wreath for victims of the IRA bomb in Enniskillen, but refused to meet the Bloody Sunday relatives. When they lobbied her Dublin residence they were followed and intimidated by the Garda (police) and hecklers shouted “are you still killing children?”. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charlie Haughey and head of the Catholic Church Cathal Daly also shunned the families.
In 1994 Prince Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Paratroop Regiment, which was responsible for the massacre,, visited Derry in an embarrassing fiasco and was forced to cancel his planned walkabout. Even in 1996 his private secretary wrote to the families advising them to “move on”.
In 1995 the tide began to turn when Irish Taoiseach John Bruton appointed an official to liaise with the families. That year Jane Winter of British-Irish Rights Watch found the infamous memo from Edward Heath to Widgery, advising him Britain was “fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war”.
In 1997 a detailed study by Professor Dermot Walsh of Limerick University demolishing the original Widgery transcript was submitted to the British and Irish governments.
That year 40,000 marched at the Derry commemoration, pressure from US politicians mounted, and two senior Irish government officials began work on another damning assessment of Widgery. Some of the Bloody Sunday soldiers began to speak out.
But it can be argued that a new inquiry, and the Irish peace process, only became possible after Labour took power in 1997. Martin McGuinness, interviewed for the book, praises Tony Blair for recognising a new inquiry as an important part of the peace process.
The new inquiry was announced in January 1998, and in Tony Doherty’s words: “Blair may have gone on to do a lot of terrible things in the world, but from our point of view it was the right thing to do and a very brave thing to do.”
The inquiry caused huge stress for the families who had to re-live that terrible day, experience humiliating questioning, and were forced to commute to hearings London for two years. In the 10 years before the Saville report was published many more of the relatives and wounded had died.
When ex-Prime Minister Edward Heath testified in 2003 he denied trying to influence Widgery and refused to apologise. Relative Kay Duddy described his “how dare you speak to me like this” attitude as infuriating.
”Soldier 027”, who testified that “there was no justification for a single shot I saw fired,” paid a price for his honesty, living under a witness protection scheme to after threats from ex-Paras who mistakenly assaulted and hospitalised his landlord.
But most of the soldiers had either “forgotten” everything or denied any wrongdoing. As relative Paddy Nash said: “In London for the soldiers, you didn’t know where to put your rage… we saw what I call genuine sorrow maybe once or twice.”
Head of the British Army General Michael Jackson, the senior commander at Bloody Sunday, said he had written a list identifying every victim as a gunman or bomber “in the early hours” when he had been “rather tired”.
At the last hurdle delays to publishing the report and the fear of “redactions” after inspection by MoD and MI5 personnel, led the relatives to launch a new campaign, “Set the Truth Free”. The slogan was carried on every front page of the Derry Journal and Derry News until Saville delivered.
When Saville finally published the report on 15th June 2010 there was jubilation and enormous relief in Derry. David Cameron’s apology, shown on a screen to the crowds outside Derry’s Guildhall, was met with a huge cheer.
But key figures such as Heath and General Jackson escaped significant blame, and the report still maintained one victim, Gerald Donaghey, had been carrying nail bombs, despite evidence to the contrary. Bloody Sunday witness Joe Mahon asked: “What about Gerald Donaghey? They got their pound of flesh.”
The relatives know Saville wasn’t everything they wanted, which includes prosecuting the soldiers. Liam Wray says: “The Prime Minister had to apologise, the Parachute Regiment will always carry that badge of shame. But judging by the news we see with the British Army in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s the true sadness, they haven’t learned from any of it.”
Joe Mahon adds: “Will the army learn? Yes, they will learn to cover things up better. They’ll learn no moral lessons from Bloody Sunday.”
For anyone who spent years marching for justice for the Bloody Sunday families, and for any student of recent Irish history, this book is a must read.