I have just watched ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ and, understandably in media tradition, time was given in the final minutes to those sporting people who had died in the last year. Today’s papers have coverage of the death of Lord Janner who had been accused of sexual assault on young people but had been deemed unfit to stand trial on the grounds of serious, ill health. His accusers will never see justice.
Last month, general Sir Robert Ford died at the ripe old age of 91. He is of historic significance because he was the British Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland in 1972 when the Bloody Sunday Massacre took place in Derry. Evidence to the Saville Inquiry on those events included a confidential memo ,sent by Ford to his boss, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Tuzo which read,
‘We may have to shoot selected ringleaders amongst the Derry young hooligans after clear warnings have been issued’.
He further suggested that normal army ammunition might be too powerful for an urban situation and suggested the substitution of .22 bullets for engaging with the ring leaders; he envisaged the weapons being used to incapacitate and cause fewer casualties. The decision to employ 1st Para in Derry, against the advice of other military colleagues, was Ford’s . It is inconceivable to me that Downing St and the highest echelons of the MOD would not have been aware of that and given full support.
Ford was criticised in the Saville Report for his use of military, and especially the Paras , to police a civilian demonstration. However, in mind-boggling semantics, Saville concluded in his report that the General could not have foreseen that the soldiers would fire unjustifiably. The Inquiry took 12 years to complete. In the final period, speculation was widespread as to the cause of the delay. It is clear, as is probably the case with the Chilcott Report, that finding a form of words to exculpate those whom the evidence had already damned, was the stumbling block.
It would have been much more difficult for Cameron to stand in the Commons and declare Bloody Sunday, ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ , if Saville had followed the evidence and indicted the supreme command at the MOD and the Government of the day.
May the year’s dead rest in peace.