This afternoon, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on the report of the Saville inquiry, which was set up to investigate the tragic events on 30th January 1972 more commonly known as Bloody Sunday.
The findings of the inquiry are damning. It concludes that:
- on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army;
- none of the casualties was armed with a firearm, posing a threat of causing death or serious injury or indeed doing anything else that could, on any view, justify them being shot;
- there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries but none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilians;
- despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers, none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers;
- in no case was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire;
- some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying; and
- many of the soldiers knowingly put forward false accounts to seek to justify their firing.
The Prime Minister rightly apologised on behalf of the whole country. But he also rightly pointed out the enormous courage and professionalism of the vast majority of the members of our armed forces who helped uphold democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2007 - the longest continuous operation in British military history. And he made the point that, though it has taken far too long, we should take some pride in the fact that we live in a country that is willing to acknowledge publicly that its soldiers have done wrong. His statement today struck exactly the right tone.
I hope that this report brings some degree of closure to the families and friends of those who were killed that day, many of who have campaigned for 38 years for the truth to be told. And I hope it will encourage others to acknowledge their wrongs so that the families and friends of all those who lost their lives during the Troubles can learn the truth about how their loved ones died.