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Waving from the windows

Mark Devenport | 18:05 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Stroke City, as Gerry Anderson famously dubbed it, looked different but sounded familiar today. The reason - the whirr of the helicopter rotor blades overhead which I recognised as a constant accompaniment to covering disturbances in the city in bygone years. However today the chopper belonged to the media, not the security forces and the atmosphere wasn't riotous, but a bizarre mixture of carnival and anticipation, as people gathered in the sunny Guildhall square.

I analysed the potential fall out for our news outlets here. But in truth the images of the day stick in my mind more than any of the many words spoken. The relatives and their representatives had been locked into the Guildhall so as not to pre-empt David Cameron's unveiling of the report to the wider world. However they beat the embargo in their own way, by appearing at the windows, waving ecstatically, and holding copies of the reports with their thumbs up. So even before the Prime Minister began to speak, the message seemed clear.

The Saville report doesn't ever use the word "unlawful" to describe the killings. However the clinical way in which it describes soldiers killing civilians who posed no threat, and its precision in ascribing certain shootings to specific soldiers is striking. The report says that some soldiers "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing". In one rather long winded but particularly damning passage, the report concludes that "In the case of those soldiers who fired in either the knowledge or belief that no-one in the areas into which they fired was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or not caring whether or not anyone there was posing such a threat, it is at least possible that they did so in the indefensible belief that all the civilians they fired at were probably either members of the Provisional or Official IRA or were supporters of one or other of these paramilitary organisations; and so deserved to be shot notwithstanding that they were not armed or posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. Our overall conclusion is that there was a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among the soldiers of Support Company."

That phrase "deserved to be shot notwithstanding that they were not armed or posing any serious threat" is pretty chilling when you think about it.

Whether prosecutions now follow is a matter for the Public Prosecution Service, who will know that whatever decision they take will be closely scrutinised by politicians at Stormont and Westminster. It struck me that if the much vilified "On The Runs" bill had not been dropped by Peter Hain back in January 2006 it would have provided the solution to the PPS's dilemma in as much as it proposed extending an amnesty to members of the security forces serving during the troubles. But the bill was binned, and the PPS will now have some hard thinking to do.

On the topic of the Deputy First Minister, which I referred to in an earlier blog, the Saville report finds that Martin McGuinness was probably armed on the day with a Thompson sub machine gun - an assertion Mr McGuinness has tonight denied. Unionists may return to this paragraph in the future, but for now the image that remains is of those hands waving from the Guildhall windows and family after family emerging to pronounce their loved ones innocent.


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