They have fought so hard for so long, but in just a few days’ time, the families of those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday will gather in Derry’s Guildhall to see whether they’ve finally been given justice.
“I’ll be very nervous. I’m not that religious but I’ll say a wee prayer to our Mickey before I read the report. I’ll ask him that we get a good result,” says John Kelly.
“I’m optimistic that Lord Saville has the truth in front of him and will deliver on it.”
Kelly wants all those killed and injured by the Parachute Regiment in 1972 declared innocent. “I also want the soldier who murdered my brother ? and whom ballistic tests link to the deaths of three others - prosecuted. In his statement to the inquiry, he claimed 80 times that he couldn’t remember what happened. All those lives and he couldn’t remember.
“I want him jailed. I don’t care that it was 38 years ago. Had I murdered somebody, I wouldn’t be allowed to escape justice. Why should there be immunity for British soldiers?”
Mickey Kelly was 17 when he joined the civil rights’ march that crisp, bright Sunday afternoon in January 1972.
“He’d never been at a march or a riot. He wasn’t as streetwise as some lads. I told him that morning, ‘If there’s any trouble, take yourself off’. He only went to the march for the craic. He’d no interest in politics. He was training to be a sewing machine mechanic in Belfast but he lived for coming back to Derry at weekends and seeing his pigeons and his dog Bingo.
“When the shooting started, my mother went looking for Mickey. She had 13 children and she loved us all but Mickey had nearly died when he was three so she was very protective of him.”
Eyewitnesses told the Kellys that Mickey had been shot dead after helping one of the injured. “When his body came home, we put the coffin in the back bedroom but my mother ran in and lifted Mickey out of it. She’d been saving for a car for him. She used the money to buy a headstone instead.
“Once, she was found wandering to the cemetery in the snow carrying blankets. She said she was going to the grave to keep Mickey warm. My father hid his pain more but when he died we found a scrapbook he’d filled with photographs and articles about Bloody Sunday,” Kelly says.
The Saville inquiry began in 2000. The first five years were spent hearing evidence from almost 1,000 witnesses - British soldiers and intelligence officers, police, civilians, IRA members, politicians, civil servants, forensic scientists, journalists and priests. The report has taken another five years to prepare. Its significance for the families can’t be over-estimated.
“Outside working-class Northern nationalist communities, it wasn’t always acceptable to say Bloody Sunday was an injustice. Doors were closed in our face,” says Kelly. On the 20th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, 30 TDs were invited by campaigners to a book launch in Dublin. Only the late Tony Gregory accepted. Mary Robinson refused to meet campaigners twice, as did the late Cardinal Cahal Daly.
The inquiry has cost 200 million pounds. “I wouldn’t care if it cost 200 billion,” says Kelly. “Unionist politicians say it’s a waste of money but the life of my brother and others was priceless. The unionists know no shame. They’re crying about the cost of the council giving us the Guildhall on the day of the report.”
A damning report
The Widgery tribunal, 11 weeks after Bloody Sunday, said there was a strong suspicion that some of the dead and injured had been firing weapons or handling bombs. At the Saville inquiry, the British army didn’t contest that the victims were all innocent. Instead, it was argued that the soldiers were shooting at gunmen and bombers in the crowd but somehow mistakenly hit the wrong people. No soldier admitted shooting civilians.
Sources in Derry who have followed the Saville inquiry closely predict it will declare the dead and wounded innocent and recommend that the Public Prosecution Service prosecute soldiers. They also believe the report will be damning of the Parachute Regiment. Strong criticism is also expected for General Sir Robert Ford who was the commander of land forces in the North in 1972.
But some families are apprehensive. “I’m afraid the report will be an anti-climax. I’m so nervous, I can’t sleep at night worrying about it,” says Kate Nash whose brother Willie (19) was killed.
“We didn’t need this long, expensive inquiry anyway. The world knows what happened on Bloody Sunday was murder. That should have been accepted and then an investigation ordered into why the British army did it.
“It wasn’t enough for the soldiers to murder my brother. They mutilated his body and stole from him. A ring was taken from his finger and a cross and chain from his neck. The post-mortem showed marks all over him. The soldiers dragged him by the roots of his hair. When we got Willie back, his hair was literally standing on its ends.
“I’m not a hard person but I’ll never forgive the paras. I want those who murdered my brother and the others prosecuted and jailed. Nazi war criminals are still being hunted.”
The family’s pain remains raw. A photograph shows Willie strumming a guitar and smiling. “He loved country-and-western music, particularly Johnny Cash. He was always playing practical jokes on us - putting a shoe on top of the door so it fell down when we came in,” says Nash.
“Every year, my father would go to England for a few months to work and he’d take one of the boys when they got older. Willie died before it was his turn. That was his big dream, to get to England to work.”
Willie Nash’s father Alex was also on the march. When he saw his son had been shot, he ran to help and was himself shot, although he lived. “Somebody said to my mother, ‘At least you’ve got your husband’ and she said, ‘I’d rather have my son’. We were never ashamed of her for saying that. It was the natural reaction of any mother,” says Nash.
“She blamed my father because he survived and he blamed himself. He would say, ‘Why wasn’t it me? I’ve lived my life’ which was nonsense because he was only 51. He suffered from post-traumatic stress until he died. He was terrified if he saw soldiers or a military helicopter.”
Nash’s parents are now dead. She says she’ll be delighted if her doubts about Saville are misplaced: “If he says in strong, blunt language that it was sheer unadulterated murder and if he calls for prosecutions, it will mean everything. I’ll head to the cemetery to be with Willie and my mother and father.”
Mickey Bridge, a steward on the march, was one of 13 people wounded. He shares Nash’s concerns that Saville will fall short for the families.
“The two other judges sitting with him were from Canada and Australia, commonwealth countries. Some of us wanted an Irish judge, or at least one from a non-Commonwealth country, on the panel but that was refused.”
Bridge says his doubts about Saville increased as the inquiry unfolded: “There was no equality. Some soldiers were allowed to give evidence from behind a screen but no such right was afforded to civilians like me. British intelligence agents got away with not answering questions by saying it wasn’t in the public interest.
“I can’t see why it has taken five years for the report to come out. It should have taken six months. It’s very simple - Bloody Sunday was state-sponsored murder and all the rest is waffle. If Saville lays the blame where it belongs, I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.
“But even if he recommends prosecutions, it won’t happen. I don’t believe I’ll ever see the soldier who shot me in court.”
Liam Wray’s brother Jim (22) was one of the dead: “At first I had no faith in the Saville inquiry. I feared it would produce a sanitised version of Bloody Sunday. But having sat through most of the hearings, I’ve changed my mind.”
Wray criticises the inquiry on some issues: “Documents weren’t disclosed because of ‘national security’ and 47% of witnesses got anonymity and 5% were screened. Calling it a public inquiry is farcical.
“I still don’t trust Saville or the other judges. But as three sensible people, who want to maintain the integrity of their positions, they will have to recognise that the soldiers’ evidence was fabricated and their actions on Bloody Sunday were unjustified, and that the dead and injured were innocent.”
‘Shot again in the back’
Jim Wray was running away from the paras when he was shot. The first bullet knocked him to the ground. Eyewitnesses say he raised his head and called for help. He was shot again in the back.
“I would like the soldier that murdered my brother to be charged. It would be a recognition of Jim’s humanity,” says Wray. “But if that soldier admitted his guilt in court, our family would understand if he wasn’t jailed. We would have wanted him jailed in 1972 because that would have taught the British army a lesson but, looking at it reasonably, we don’t see the point now.
“I wasn’t always this calm. After Bloody Sunday, I was very angry. I’d have gone out and shot somebody but thank God the IRA wouldn’t touch people like me who had been too close to such pain.”
Wray wants the politicians who instructed or defended the military to be held to account as well as civil servants who participated in the cover-up. “There’s a whole raft of people responsible, not just the soldiers.
“The soldier who killed my brother probably still thinks he did the right thing. I’m sure he would say he was only doing his job. He was part of a system which saw a civil rights’ marcher as the enemy. I look at Afghanistan now and think of all those who are killed by British soldiers ‘only doing their jobs’.
“The victims aren’t on Britain’s doorstep. They are thousands of miles away, of a different skin colour, religion and culture. The Afghan dead and their families will never even get a Saville inquiry. In Derry, I hope our long walk for justice is coming to an end.”
The fourteen who died
John (Jackie) Duddy (17). Shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville flats. Four witnesses stated Duddy was unarmed and running away from the paratroopers when he was killed. Uncle of Irish boxer John Duddy.
Patrick Joseph Doherty (31). Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety in the forecourt of Rossville flats.
Bernard McGuigan (41). Shot in the back of the head when he went to help Patrick Doherty. He had been waving a white handkerchief.
Hugh Pious Gilmour (17). Shot through his right elbow, the bullet then entering his chest as he ran from the paratroopers on Rossville Street .
Kevin McElhinney (17). Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety at the front entrance of the Rossville Flats.
Michael Gerald Kelly (17). Shot in the stomach while standing near the rubble barricade in front of Rossville Flats.
John Pius Young (17). Shot in the head while standing at the rubble barricade.
William Noel Nash (19). Shot in the chest near the barricade. Witnesses stated Nash was unarmed and going to the aid of another when killed.
Michael M McDaid (20). Shot in the face at the barricade as he was walking away from the paratroopers.
James Joseph Wray (22). Wounded then shot again at close range while lying on the ground.
Gerald Donaghy (17). Shot in stomach while trying to run to safety between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park.
Gerald (James) McKinney (34). Shot in the chest just after Gerald Donaghy.
William Anthony McKinney (27). Shot from behind as he attempted to aid Gerald McKinney (no relation).
John Johnston (59). Shot in the leg and left shoulder on William Street 15 minutes before the rest of the shooting started. Johnston was not on the march. He died four-and-a-half months later. His death has been attributed to the injuries he received on the day.