Bloody Sunday, Orgreave, Hillsborough
‘Hear no cover up-see no cover up-speak no cover up’
David John Douglass
This year’s ‘Bloody Sunday March’ in Derry, commemorating the day the Parachute Regiment , shot and killed in cold blood fourteen unarmed civilian Civil- Rights protesters and wounded another sixteen others; took place at a conjuncture of events.
The fact that the commemoration happened at all is evidence of something else going on behind the scenes. Sinn Fein (Provisional) following the terms and climate of the Good Friday Agreement had two years ago withdrawn support for the event and in particular following the (Lord) Saville Report which had overturned the findings of the previous ‘Widgery Enquiry’. It comes too after the decision of the PPS and PSNI to scrutinise the terms of this new report and launch a murder investigation into the events and deaths that day. The Widgery Enquiry had in the teeth of evidence, thousands of witnesses, independent TV and press reporters from across Europe found that the soldiers had behaved with restraint , had returned fire only when fired up and were not responsible for the non combatants killed in the ‘cross fire’ some of whom had been armed. The Saville Report re-examine the pathology, the witnesses and the evidence, now concluded the all bar one of the dead victims were totally innocent, unarmed and killed by soldiers totally out of control. Cameron was forced by this finding to make a public apology and admit the crime of the troops and the innocence of the protesters. Sinn Fein, in its current pursuit of social harmony had instructed that this was all that was needed to ‘move on and let the dead rest’. But the admission of guilt had produced no punishment, no admonishment, no convictions and no discharges of the troops involved or their political masters who made the specific decision to send in the ‘Para’s’ to the republican heartland of Derry with live ammunition, against all the advice of the previous force commander on the ground.
One of the innocent victims Gerald Donaghey is still ‘guilty’ in the eyes of Saville in the sense that he accepted he was carrying nail bombs in his pockets, (despite the evidence of Dr’s and the people who helped him at the time that he certainly was not.) although he concluded despite this he did not pose a threat at the time he was killed. Having to admit that these nail bombs were planted on his body after it was intercepted by the army and stolen was a step too far even for Saville. This frame has also to be broken. The truth may more or less be out but no justice is yet seen to be done. The Provisional leadership is ready to move on, but the bitter and still beleaguered population is not. (The flags of the Parachute regiment fly in celebration alongside the union jack throughout the cities loyalist enclaves and shared thoroughfares and especially during Bloody Sunday.)
Last year was a bad year to try and pull the plug on the march it being the 40th anniversary, SF leadership expected its writ not to run, this year would be the real test. Despite a total boycott of their members and organizational support, despite people being leaned on heavily, the march was in the event a triumph of defiance. Although heavily supported by the dissident republican groups, 32 county campaign and Republican Sinn Fein (the respective military wings having merged into...’the IRA’ the political expression is still at odds) and the IRSP, the ongoing campaign and movement is the creature of the community rank and file victims, their families and the community at large. In bitterly cold weather the streets were once again thronged with most of the republican population young and old. Derry is not yet ready to ‘move on’.
This was more than a march though and a week of activity preceded it, mostly making links with other related struggles and injustices. Two of these; policing the miner’s strike of 84/5 and specifically Orgreave and the disgusting cover up and police conspiracy at Hillsborough. I was extremely honoured to have been invited over for a week of meetings and films to speak for the mining communities and support the campaign for an independent enquiry and justice.
Following a recent BBC documentary on events at the Orgreave coking works near Rotherham on June 18 1984, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Although they are now saying they are not constituted to conduct such a thorough going enquiry.
Nobody will yet have forgotten the scenes at Orgreave coking works when the greatest number of miners pickets to be assembled during the 12 months strike, maybe 16000 or more in a make or break attempt to close down the steel works at Scunthorpe by cutting off the supply of coke. The police easily matched our numbers and with prior occupation of the site set us up for a deliberate and merciless ambush. In the battle that followed 95 pickets were arrested and charged with riot which carried a maximum sentence of life.
All were later acquitted in spectacular court room scenes in which police were proved by their own camera evidence and photos to be bare faced liars. The BBC documentary going back to the hand written statements of the nearly two hundred police, shows obvious collusion in their evidence not even having the wit to vary the wording of statements they all start off with the preamble their senior officer is reading out to them, obviously expecting them to put it into their own words. Now they are starting to break ranks and admit they were all led into a room and had the statements dictated to them.
39 MP’s have signed a parliamentary early day motion (EDM) calling for the Director of Public Prosecutions to participate in the investigation of South Yorkshire Police and ‘also deliver a full comprehensive inquiry’ into policing throughout the UK during the one-year strike. In my view while this is a worthy endeavour which breaks through the lie of a neutral state and impartial police force without it is linked to the whole political campaign to first break then eliminate the NUM it will be without context or conclusion.
What is clear as day is that that Thatcher gave the police, from its ACPO coup; (the defacto creation, of a national political police force), top brass accountable to no-one but themselves, down to the ordinary young thug in a uniform there developed a cultural of impunity. This is what carried the South Yorkshire Force from that field in Orgreave into that field at Hillsborough. Hillsborough was nothing short of a massacre of 96 totally innocent football fans out to watch a day’s football. Their deaths were barbaric cruel and slow, and took place in front of the gaze of hundreds of officers, blind to what was unfolding before their eyes, convinced they were looking at a pitch invasion. Rescue services and medic’s were blocked from the ground by police orders while people died unnecessarily on the pitch and in dressing rooms on make shift stretchers. To loose ones kids, your lover your friend your husband or wife in such an unnecessary and meaningless way is impossible enough to bare. To have the police, and the inquest declare that the fans were responsible for their own deaths, that police control and management were innocent, rubbed salt into an open wound. Papers like the Sun stoked the injustice with screaming headlines declaring the fans to have been mad drunk, rioting, that they stole from the bodies of their dead mates that they urinated on corpses.
There is a theme which runs through all three events, a state narrative which blames the victims, which lies through its teeth under oath, which projects through a willing surrogate media the official line, the official distortion. At Hillsborough, the self same police force which ran riot at Orgreave stood stupid and useless while youngsters died before their eyes, under the command of the same chief of police officer, who dictated the official line. In both cases officers conspired to falsify statements and lie under oath. In Derry and Hillsborough those appointed to judge the veracity of the evidence turned truth upside down and exonerated the criminals while blaming the victims. Widgery was appointed to support the lie, the Hillsborough pathologist and through him the jury may well have been so inclined too.
The Hillsborough families like their Derry counterparts now see some shafts of justice breaking through with the quashing of the verdicts, and reopening of the enquiry and inquest on those events. What will happen when that inquest gets to the point of criminal liability and guilt is hard to guess. Procedurally the inquest should adjourn while criminal charges and a criminal prosecution are made against the chief police officers and any other conspirators responsible, but will it?
As Jenny Hicks, mother of two teenage girls, 17 & 19 crushed to death said at Derry rally, “truth without consequences will be useless”.
Three other events meet the conjuncture of the Bloody Sunday weekend, one incredible though it seems is the launch of the first book on the history of Free Derry yet to be written. Free Derry, Protest and Resistance, by Adrian Kerr published by the local Guildhall Press with a lively and touching introduction by veteran SWP Irish activist Eamonn McCann, it traces the whole history of Derry and Bogside and is reviewed directly below. The author runs The Museum of Free Derry the Bogside museum set up by The Bloody Sunday Trust to ensure the story of occupation, oppression and murder is public, so visitors, students and tourists to the city will see something of its real history.
On Thursday 24th news came through that the indomitable republican Dolours Price had died at her home in North Dublin apparently with no suspicious circumstances. This immediately threw the focus back on her sister Marian, currently interned and jailed without charge indefinitely in one of the most blatant and ongoing cases of miscarriages of justice. A brief but determined campaign to have her freed on license, for her sister’s funeral on Monday 28th Jan was successful after the bail price was raised from the Derry community and small businessmen over the weekend despite the banks being closed. A feat of solidarity in itself. Marian has been detained in Maghaberry prison since May 2011 mostly in solitary confinement. She had twice been granted bail of each occasion the Northern Ireland judicial system was overruled by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who ordered her return to prison. Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, and the Parole Commission both state that her detention is nothing to do with them and they are prevented from intervening. Sole authority rests with MI5. Secretary of State for NI claims to have ‘secret intelligence’ that Marian may be a danger to the state. He does not have to test this ‘intelligence’ in any court, before any enquiry prove its veracity or give Marian the right to defend herself or be subject to trial by jury or indeed any trial at all. Despite the three recent decisions to come clean on Derry, Orgreave and Hillsborough the case of Marian Price proves no leopards have changed their spots and the government feels confident to violate the most basic of human rights because it is confident the jackals of the press will keep stum, there will be no TV news revelation and the vast bulk of the British population will be kept in total ignorance of what rights we all truly can depend on and those we cant. Marian’s case exposes us all to a likelihood of the same treatment any time they so wish. It is incumbent on all of us to raise this question , to throw back in the teeth of those politicians who pontificate over human rights and the rule of law that injustice like this remains. In the words of a republican song
And the courts gave them justice
As justice is given
By well mannered thugs!
Free Derry; Protest and Resistance
Pub Museum of Derry
Introduction by Eamonn McCann
From the creation of “Free Derry” (Aug 9th 1971): when the solidly working class and republican community seized control of their own area of the city , to the time of the Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, the price paid and the degree of resistance mounted was hugely inordinate. Even by comparison with occupied Ulster as a whole. 122 people had lost their lives in and around the Free Derry area, including 73 civilians and republican volunteers, 49 members of the security forces or civilians working for them. Over 3% of the total deaths for the whole of the conflict in an area of less than 1% of the population of the north of Ireland. Security force killings were the highest, with 46 of the total being killed by the British Army or RUC 33 of who were civilian non combatants.
This is a remarkable book. Not least because it is the ONLY book to have been written about the Free Derry ‘commune’ we could correctly call it. That creation of community was shapeless, spontaneous, episodic and heroic. The fact that the people of this risen community had decided enough was enough and they would no longer be prey to loyalist murder gangs, sectarian armed police, and later the full weight of the British army. They claimed it back, shutting it off, denying the authority to the British state, taking control of the whole area under their own direct control and administration. This rattled the British ruling class no end. The initial ‘hands off, leave it alone and it will pitter out’ response of the authorities was to cause furious contempt among section of the British forces. Not least Major General Robert Ford Commander of Land Forces 1971-2 for regiments stationed in Derry. The tactical decision of armed forces on the ground that going in and imposing British presence in this republican stronghold for the sake of appearance was not their remit, was taken almost personally by Ford as weakness and surrender. It was Ford who was to by-pass this experienced on the ground force, with a detachment of the Para’s brought in from outside with the clear intention of showing the people of Derry who was boss. At the end of the blood bath 14 utterly innocent people lay dead, many with multiple bullet wounds, some summarily executed as they lay bleeding and helpless on the ground.
The book leads us through the narrative of mounting resistance, the simply non violent Civil Rights campaign to win One Person One Vote, for incredibly not all adult Catholics could vote while Protestant business men could exercise more than one vote, quite legitimately as there was a property franchise. The weighing of the ballot to favour one political community regardless of population size was a throw back to the Rotten Borough’s prior to the 1830s reform act, it followed the already Gerrymandered borders which ensured a loyalist majority even when outnumbered by the republican community. The monolithic nature of Stormont with its cast iron loyalist control ensured that the Catholic republican community would be confined to specific ghettos and housing would not be allocated on the basis of need but on the basis of religion and politics. The injustice of the situation cried out for remedy, but the simple demands of constitutional equality in line with the rest of ‘Britain’ brought down the most vulgar and unrestrained violence and repression and basically beat the pacifism and non violence out of the movement.
As the narrative unfolds, each death is recorded on a differently shaded page, the shaded pages increase as the story moves on. I thought I had understood fully the process of events, I know now I was missing shades of grey among the black and white I thought in, the nuances of events. Blow by blow and death by death as the struggle matures and degree of resistance hardens we follow here the history as few except those intimately involved would have understood and experienced it. The emergence of the Provisional IRA with a new breed of young working class fighters to meet the challenge and for a time face down 20,000 British troops, is something which ‘the left’ in general never ever fully understood in Britain, perhaps with the benefit of distance, and reflection that movement might become clearer now. But the book tells the whole story here, warts and all, and is anything but partisan. My own understanding of the struggle was severely dinted on a number of occasions, not least by the record of armed struggle engaged in by the Officials who I had always believed were virtually confined to barracks throughout the bitter struggle. Not so by any means and this history goes to show that depending on the Provisional press and version of history alone as I had done, didn’t actually furnish me with the whole picture.
Following the Bloody Sunday Massacre one would have thought and the military strategists who designed the blood bath must have thought the spirit of the community would be broken. Not so, just the opposite, almost every able bodied man and boy in the community lined up to join both wings of the IRA, and the community imposed its control back on the streets again. In the months following Bloody Sunday the IRA’s extracted a heavy cost on the British army and RUC and the British state fumed at the autonomy of Free Derry, they established a think tank of strategists to draw up options on how to cope with the defiance and autonomy. Interestingly that document is now available; some of the options give you a clue on how desperately they considered the situation. Blocking Free Derry in, a siege no less, with no water or power or electricity or post or deliveries etc. Stopping the benefits of residence, denying services. In the end they opt for Operation Motorman, they intend to go with the panzers (literally Centurion battlefield tanks) and armoured cars and 1500 fully armed troops. As the tanks smash through road blocks and over rubble and barricades there is something of other similar world events here, Hungry, came to mind, the image goes across the world. They prepare for a house by house resistance, they calculate high causalities, they expect innocent civilians across the board to die, they think it a cost worth paying. The IRA doesn’t, and wisely refuses to fight this battle in their own back yard among its own unarmed and vulnerable community, Free Derry as an autonomous self operating restricted and defended community was broken open 31st July 1972. It had lasted since 9th Aug 1971.
But the spirit (as well as the famous end house mass mural ) still remains, now the click of SLR’s across the community are not rifles but camera’s as folk from across the world come to visit the area, marvel at its history, study its legend and visit its wonderfully moving museum of Free Derry from which this book is derived.
Every person who calls themselves a socialist of any description must surely equip themselves with this book and this knowledge of one of the most heroic pages of struggle of any working class community in the last century,
Dave Douglass NUM, Kate Nash a victim of the Bloody Sunday massacre and Bloody Sunday Commemoration Committee and Bernadette McAliskey (nee Devlin)