Today marks the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday sometimes also referred to as the Bogside Massacre.
Sunday January 30th 1972 started as any other Sunday in Derry but would end with tragedy and a population thrown into a dark backlash of opinion towards the British.
British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march against internment. Fourteen people died: thirteen were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers and some were shot while trying to help the wounded. Other protesters were injured by rubber bullets or batons, and two were run down by army vehicles.The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The soldiers involved were members of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, also known as “1 Para”.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organised a march to start at 3PM from the Bishops Field area of the Creggan. The march had already been deemed illegal by the British and from previous march’s the police force and the British proved too ruthless against peaceful demonstrators such as the attack on a civil rights march at Burntollet bridge.
The plan for the march was to walk down Creggan Hill, into William Street and onto the Guildhall Square, in the City Centre area. Over 15,000 people attended the march which proceeded from Creggan. The marchers were singing songs with some describing it as a carnival like event. As they reached the William Street area the British Army had set-up barricades so the march was diverted into the Bogside and towards Free Derry Corner, a small area that isolated itself from the Northern Ireland state known as as no-go area for the British forces.Despite this, a number of people continued on towards an army barricade where local youths threw stones at soldiers, who responded with a water cannon, CS gas and rubber bullets.
As the riot began to disperse, soldiers of the 1st Parachute Regiment were ordered to move in and arrest as many of the rioters as possible. In the minutes that followed, some of these paratroopers opened fire on the crowd, killing thirteen men and injuring 13 others, one of whom died some months later.
A large group of people fled or were chased into the car park of Rossville Flats. This area was like a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by high-rise flats. The soldiers opened fire, killing one civilian and wounding six others.This fatality, Jackie Duddy, was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back.
While the British Army maintained that its troops had responded after coming under fire, the people of the Bogside saw it as murder. The British government was sufficiently concerned for the Home Secretary to announce the following day an official inquiry into the circumstances of the shootings.
Opinion was further polarised by the findings of this tribunal, led by the British Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery. His report exonerated the army and cast suspicion on many of the victims, suggesting they had been handling bombs and guns. Relatives of the dead and the wider nationalist community campaigned for a fresh public inquiry, which was finally granted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998.
Headed by Lord Saville, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry took 12 years and finally reported in 2010. It established the innocence of the victims and laid responsibility for what happened on the army.
Prime Minister David Cameron called the killings “unjustified and unjustifiable”. The families of the victims of Bloody Sunday felt that the inquiry’s findings vindicated those who were killed, raising the question of prosecutions and compensation.