The Bloody Sunday inquiry was urged today to determine the extent of former British Prime Minister Ted Heath’s responsibility for the deaths of the 13 people shot dead by troops at the civil rights march in Derry over 30 years ago.
In his final submission to the Saville Inquiry, Lord Gifford QC said the inquiry needed to pronounce in its report on the responsibility of British political leaders, including Sir Edward, for “the disaster of Bloody Sunday”.
Lord Gifford is representing the family of James Wray who was shot dead in the Bogside by paratroopers.
The then Prime Minister had authorised tough action knowing there was a risk of bloodshed on a potentially large scale, he said.
It was a very serious part of the inquiry’s remit to pin down the extent of responsibility among Heath and his ministers, he said.
“It is serious for the reputation of men who have held the highest office of state.
“It is important for the families also that you should pronounce up to what level, military and political, you hold people responsible for the acts of the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.”
Prior to Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972, a choice had been made, initially it seemed at a military level, to allow a measure of tolerance for unlawful marches, he said.
But he said: “Taking off the kid gloves, which Sir Edward Heath clearly authorised, and applying the law with rigour, as he clearly intended, was something which had a price and the risk was deliberately run.”
He said the Prime Minister may not have known exactly how the march would be handled, but he “knew enough”.
“The dispositions which he approved gave no quarter to the marchers,” said Lord Gifford.
Earlier the lawyer branded soldiers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday as a “death squad”.
He said Mr Wray was “murdered by a group of soldiers who called themselves a brick but that we have called a death squad”.
Mr Wray had been shot once in the back as he fled and once more as close range as he lay on the ground, said Lord Gifford.
He and others fired on were shot “for no other reason than that they were easy targets”, he told the inquiry in Derry’s Guildhall.
Each of the four soldiers in the group had offered a pretext for opening fire which had been “contradictory and manifestly false” he added.
The lawyer said that if it had been a case of a “squad of underworld hit men shooting members of a rival gang, there would have been no hesitation in a prosecuting authority in charging every member of the squad with the murder of every victim who died.”
The shot which killed Mr Wray was “one of the defining moments of that day”, he said.
The shot had not been fired out of a sense of being in danger but deliberately to “get a kill” he added.
He referred to the words of one of the soldiers during the shooting of Bloody Sunday - ‘I have got another one’ - and said it was “the triumphant report of a team member who has done what the team expected of him.”