The Bloody Sunday Inquiry yesterday cleared military press officers of disseminating false information to journalists in the wake of the massacre.
But one leading Irish journalist present at Bloody Sunday has insisted that the Army did put out ‘black propaganda’about the events in Derry on 30 September 1972.
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British press reports in the wake of the killings of 14 Catholics by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment largely followed the official line that the dead were rioters, gunmen and bombers.
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry yesterday concluded: “We have found no evidence that anyone involved in military information falsified any Army or government document relating to Bloody Sunday, nor any evidence that anyone involved in military information disseminated to the public anything about Bloody Sunday, knowing or believing that information to be untrue.”
Journalist Eamonn McCann, who was present in Derry at the time of Bloody Sunday and has written extensively about the Troubles, told Press Gazette: “The fact is that fraudulent and false information was disseminated by the British authorities and the British government…
“After Bloody Sunday black propaganda stemmed from senior members of the army itself and not from spokesmen.”
Noting that General Sir Michael Jackson was involved in writing the army’s original account of the events of Bloody Sunday he said: “He appeared on TV yesterday after David Cameron had sat to down to issue his own contribution to the orchestrated apology.”
McCann said that no journalist has yet put Jackson sufficiently on the spot about the account of Bloody Sunday that he was involved in compiling – and the role that had in prompting the need for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
Jackson, who went on to become head of the armed forces, was a captain and adjutant of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment at the time of Bloody Sunday and so was involved in compiling an account of the day’s events.
This included writing out the statement of Major E Loden in which he detailed how soldiers had shot at and killed various people he described as nail bombers and gunmen.
The Saville Report yesterday refuted this account and emphasised the innocence of all 14 of those killed on Bloody Sunday.
In the view of McCann, if the army’s original account had been more honest there would have been no need for the £200m Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
In evidence to the inquiry in 2003, Jackson said: “I can say with complete authority that I was not involved in any attempt to distort or cover up what happened that day, and to the best of my knowledge and firm belief, nor was anyone else.
“It is simply inconceivable that one or more of the officers whose statements I wrote out could have been engaged in such activity without it being obvious to me.”
Robert Fisk was a reporter for The Times in 1972. Writing in The Independent today he cast his mind back to the events of Bloody Sunday and noted “the libels that British journalism was to commit against the dead of Bloody Sunday”.
He asked whether, in their reporting of Bloody Sunday and the subsequent and now debunked Widgery report into it: “British journalists have something to answer for in our slavish adherence to the notion of the British Army’s integrity”.