Irish Republican News · November 21, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Paras wanted to talk - journalist

A former member of the Parachute Regiment who later became a journalist told the Saville Inquiry this week about threats he received after a British TV documentary about Bloody Sunday in which he was involved was aired.

Neil Davis told the inquiry that he had been a private in the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment between 1965 and 1969. He served in Aden, Cyprus and elsewhere, and during his time in Aden he was with the Support Company of the Mortar Platoon. It was in his capacity as an ex-para that he was able to arrange, and in some cases interview, many of his former colleagues -- a number of whom he had served with personally -- for the Praxis documentary Secret History Bloody Sunday.

Davis told the inquiry that in 1988 he had begun to carry out preliminary research for a documentary about the British withdrawal from Aden. During the course of that research, he learned that some of those with whom he had served in the late 1960s had gone on to serve in the north of Ireland.

In 1989, together with journalists John Goddard and Tony Start, he began working on a documentary about Bloody Sunday for Praxis and between May and November 1991 he interviewed about a dozen of his former colleagues.

Davies said that because of the soldiers' concerns it was always ``well established'' that they would not be identified in the programme.

``Generally, soldiers I interviewed had three main concerns about it becoming known publicly that they had spoken to me in connection with the programme,'' he said. ``First, they were worried about the consequences from the Parachute Regiment. Second, they were concerned that they would be breaking the Official Secrets Act and, finally, they were worried about how other soldiers might react, since much of the information I was given pointed to some soldiers having acted in an extremely inappropriate way on Bloody Sunday.

``My main impression was that they were extremely worried that they had not spoken about this for a long time, even to each other, and some of them felt they wanted to talk about it, some of them felt they had been ignored for a long time. I think they were worried about social consequences or consequences from other members of the Parachute Regiment or maybe some official consequences.''

Davis did not say that the soldiers expressed, at that time, any concern at all about being targeted or threatened by the IRA should their identity become public. However, once they were called to appear before the inquiry, almost all the soldiers, whether or not they were actually directly involved with the events of Bloody Sunday, demanded that they be given anonymity, screening and that their evidence be heard in London, claiming that they faced some unspecified -- and unsubstantiated -- threat from the IRA. One soldier, 027, requested witness protection after he received threats from what he believed were members or former members of the regiment and after his lodger was badly beaten up at his home in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Davis told the inquiry that after the programme was broadcast he received a number of anonymous telephone calls threatening violence against him. He concluded that they were must have been made either by the soldiers he had interviewed or perhaps other soldiers who were unhappy with the content of the programme.

These calls, he said, ``were not the sort of calls where they explained it, they were more expressions of anger, a lot of swearing''.

The inquiry was shown notes of several of the interviews that had been carried out for the making of the programme. One former Para spoke of his first two years in Ireland, and referred to the regiment ``getting away with murder'' on their second tour.

Another soldier, identified as Sergeant O when he gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry, was interviewed on 14 May 1991 by John Goddard and was asked; ``Did you see the gunman?''

The transcript continues: ``Answer: `Now we are into an area where I am not talking.' Question: `I do not understand, why?' Answer: `Why? Because I have got a life to lead. I do not want to spend the next 20 years looking over my shoulder.'``

Davis added that these sentiments were ``something that a lot of the soldiers said. When I initially started talking to them I think because I was an ex-member of the Parachute Regiment and had served with them in Aden there was a lot of old comradeship left. A lot of them talked to me quite openly and this is the sort of pattern of discussion which is repeated with quite a few soldiers. I mean, this is something that had hung over them for a long time and a lot of them were drinking heavily, they were very disturbed by it and some of them wanted to talk about it but found it very difficult.''

When he gave evidence to the inquiry, Soldier O said that he had been ``lied to'' by the journalists, and believed that he was being interviewed about his experiences in Aden.

According to another interview transcript with a former Para, identified as 019, Davies was told that it was necessary ``to be a psycho to get into the Paras; maximum violence in minimum time''. The regiment was, he said, ``the nearest thing to kamikaze in the British Army''.

During his evidence, 019 denied being the soldier interviewed by Davies and was subsequently reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to charges of perjury.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News