The Investigations

Widgery Tribunal

On January 31, 1972, the British Home Secretary, Reginald Maulding, announced an inquiry into the events of what happened in Derry. Lord Widgery, Lord Chief Justice, would lead the endeavor, and he would focus exclusively on the shooting, not the events that led up to January 30.[1] Debate occurred over the location of the inquiry because banks and shops had closed in Derry, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had been strengthened. Therefore, according to the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, the inquiry would be held outside of Derry in Coleraine, twenty-four miles northeast.[2] From February 21 to March 14, Lord Widgery heard hearings of 114 witnesses that included civilians, members of the media, priests, forensic experts, pathologists, doctors, police and soldiers. To ease soldiers’ nerves who testified, the report labelled them as a letter instead of using their name.[3] On April 18, 1972, the Widgery Report became published.[4] Lord Widgery concluded that many protestors had been armed, and they shot at the army. This sentiment strengthened the nationalist belief that the British wanted to exonerate their soldiers while the unionist government blamed the march organizers and the IRA for the deaths on January 30.[5]

Discussion of another inquiry circulated since 1973. In a May 1973 meeting, the Stormont government claimed another inquiry had not happened after the Widgery Tribunal out of fear it would revive local memories.[6] The day before the twenty-sixth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, January 29, 1998, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, declared another inquiry looking into Bloody Sunday would occur under Lord Saville of Newdigate.[7] Blair qualified that he did not know how long this Inquiry would take.[8] The Inquiry began in Derry on April 3, 1998.[9]

Saville Inquiry

Differing from Widgery’s Tribunal, Lord Saville discussed whether soldiers could remain anonymous in this Inquiry, requested relevant materials from the Ministry of Defence and the Security Service and gathered evidence of 2500 witnesses by the end of the Inquiry.[10] In spring 2001, Bernadette Devlin appeared before Lord Saville where she, like many other witnesses who appeared, had trouble recollecting the events from decades prior.[11] On June 15, 2010, the victims’ families gathered in Derry to hear Lord Saville’s findings.[12] Lord Saville found that the soldiers did not fire in response to any type of attack, and that many soldiers tried to justify their actions by giving false accounts of that day. Most surprisingly, Lord Saville placed the blame with the British government since it had responsibility of the soldiers, and Lord Saville issued an apology to the victims’ families on behalf of the British government.[13] Lord Saville concluded with,

“What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”[14]

[1] Douglas Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry (London: Biteback Publishing, 2011), 42.

[2] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 43.

[3] Ibid., 45.

[4] Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996), 145.

[5] Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 63-4.

[6] Central Secretariat. “Londonderry Inquests.” 1 May 1973. Belfast: Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)., 1.

[7] Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, 55.

[8] Ibid., 56.

[9] Ibid., 58.

[10] Ibid., 59.

[11] Ibid., 85-6.

[12] Ibid., 301-2.

[13] Ibid., 303.

[14] Ibid., 304.