Father Edward Daly leads a group of people carrying the mortally wounded Jackie Duddy, waving a white handkerchief

British Army kills 13 on Bloody Sunday

30 January 1972

On Sunday 30 January 1972, British soldiers from the 1st Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights protestors in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, killing thirteen and injuring a similar number.

The events of Bloody Sunday sparked a long campaign for justice by families of the victims.

Photo: Father Edward Daly leads a group of people carrying the mortally wounded Jackie Duddy, waving a white handkerchief (Stanley Matchett)

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Lord Saville presiding over The Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guildhall in Londonderry, 13 June 2010

3 April 1998 - 15 June 2010

Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday

More information about: British Army kills 13 on Bloody Sunday

British troops had been sent into Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in August 1969 as a peacekeeping force in the wake of a period of sustained rioting by predominantly Catholic nationalist protestors that became known as the 'Battle of the Bogside'.

The troops were initially welcomed by the nationalist community as a preferable alternative to what they saw as the discrimination of local civil authorities, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the so-called 'B-Specials' reserves.

The situation in Derry was inflamed by policies such as detention without trial (internment) and the alleged rigging of electoral wards to favour Protestant voters (gerrymandering). Protests were organised through the nascent civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, led by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

When Northern Ireland's Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, introduced internment on 9 August 1971, his government also imposed a 12-month ban on all marches. On 22 January 1972, nationalist SDLP MPs John Hume and Ivan Cooper led an anti-internment rally along Magilligan Strand, a beach just outside Derry.

The marchers' destination was an internment camp, but they were met by soldiers of the 1st Parachute Regiment, who closed off the beach with barbed wire. Violence broke out and the soldiers drove the protesters off the beach using baton charges, rubber bullets and CS gas.

Civil rights march

On the morning of Sunday 30 January 1972, some ten thousand people gathered in the Creggan estate, Derry, and walked towards Guildhall Square in the centre of the city on a march organised by NICRA. The British Army had sealed off the approaches to the square, so the march organisers led most of the demonstrators towards 'Free Derry Corner' in the Bogside area of the city.

Despite this, some marchers continued toward the British Army barricade at William Street, where groups of local youths (referred to by the security forces as 'YDHs' - Young Derry Hooligans) threw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers responded with a water cannon, CS gas and rubber bullets.

Paratroopers open fire

As the riot was dispersed, the soldiers were ordered to move in and arrest as many of the rioters as possible. Just after four o'clock, the paratroopers advanced down William Street and Rossville Street. In the following minutes, paratroopers opened fire on the crowd, killing thirteen men and injuring a similar number. One of those injured died some months later.

The soldiers and their commanding officers maintained that they had been fired on as they moved in to make arrests. General Robert Ford, commander of the British Army in Northern Ireland, said they had taken aggressive action in response to a "hooligan element". Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, commander on the ground in Derry, also insisted that his men had been fired upon first.

As far as the people of the Bogside were concerned the thirteen men sot by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday had been murdered.

Reaction and inquiries

Condemnation was widespread in Britain and Ireland, and internationally. The British government was sufficiently concerned that the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, announced an official inquiry into the circumstances of the shootings.

The Widgery Tribunal was published less than twelve weeks after Bloody Sunday. It largely exonerated the British Army, but was labelled a 'whitewash' by the families of the victims and the wider nationalist community.

A fresh inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was ordered in 1998 after years of sustained campaigning by the relatives of the victims.

The Saville Inquiry, the most expensive of its kind in British legal history, reported in June 2010. It concluded that none of those who died had posed a threat to British soldiers. Prime Minister David Cameron apologised on behalf of the nation for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" killings.