LONDON/LONDONDERRY (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron apologised on Tuesday for the 1972 killings by British troops of 13 protesters on Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday after a long-awaited report said those shot were unarmed.
The inquiry, led by English High Court judge Lord Saville, has been 12 years in the making and cost some 200 million pounds. Here are some details:
— January 30, 1972 became known as Bloody Sunday after British soldiers shot dead 13 men taking part in an unlawful civil rights march in Londonderry. A 14th died weeks later. The troops said they shot at people armed with guns or nail bombs.
— The shootings by the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, who had been ordered into the staunchly nationalist Bogside area to arrest rioters, prompted the IRA to declare its intention to kill as many British soldiers as possible.
— By the end of March that year, the Northern Ireland Parliament had been suspended amid spiralling violence and direct rule from London was imposed by the British government.
— The shootings boosted support for IRA guerrillas and their nationalist political allies in the United States, providing fertile ground for fund-raising until the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
— Britain’s then-Prime Minister Edward Heath ordered a swift inquiry into Bloody Sunday chaired by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery.
— The findings, concluded in April 1972, largely exonerated the soldiers involved as having acted in self-defence, and prompted charges of a cover-up from family and friends of those killed.
— In January 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a fresh inquiry on the basis there was new evidence that had not been seen by Lord Widgery.
— The Saville inquiry sat in Londonderry and London between April 1998 and November 2004, receiving statements from around 2,500 people and hearing oral evidence from more than 920 witnesses.
— Heath, testifying in January 2003, blamed army officers on the scene. “The tragic deaths in Londonderry outraged the Catholic community, increased support for the IRA and destroyed the prospect of a political initiative,” he said.
“Therefore it was absurd to suggest that Her Majesty’s Government intended or was prepared to risk the events which occurred.”
— Martin McGuinness, now the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and a Sinn Fein MP, admitted in evidence that he was the Provisional IRA’s second-in-command in the city at the time.
He vehemently denied accusations by security force informers that he had planned nail bomb attacks and had fired the first shot on the day.
— Relatives of the 14 people who died in 1972 hope the release of the inquiry will lead to the prosecutions of soldiers and their political masters .