MacLellan testifies to Bloody Sunday inquiry

by David Granville

THE OFFICER in charge of British troops on Bloody Sunday in 1972 has told the Saville inquiry that paratroopers disobeyed orders on the day.

The evidence of retired major-general Patrick MacLellan, a brigadier at the time of the shootings, has been hailed by some observers as a defining moment in the inquiry, now sitting in London. However, it has also been interpreted as an attempt to deflect blame for the killings from people in high places.

MacLellan said that troops from the 1st Battalion of paratroopers had directly contravened orders by entering the Bogside in trucks and by starting a running battle with protesters down Rossville Street.

The army’s plan had been “to contain a march within the Bogside” and that a strictly limited arrest operation was to be carried out by a small company of soldiers on foot , he told the inquiry Inquiry chair Lord Saville put it to the former brigadier that: “It would appear that instead of doing what you wanted them to do, which was conduct a limited arrest operation in the area of Little James Street/William Street and not to conduct a running battle down Rossville Street, they did not in fact conduct any limited arrest operation at all.”

MacLellan, who still insists that British troops were fired on and were acting in self-defence and that it was he and not General Ford who gave the order for the paras to enter the Bogside, replied: “That is correct.”

When asked by Lord Saville if he was wrong to suggest that the paras had done “almost precisely the opposite” of what they had been ordered to do, MacLellan indicated that it was not.

MacLellan later claimed to have no detailed knowledge of the plans the paras intended to put into operation once they were sent in.

He was also unable to explain the exact timing of his order for the 'arrest operation' to commence, which, as inquiry lawyer Christopher Clarke QC pointed out, appeared to have coincided with a reduction in the disturbances and as marchers were starting to go home. While McLellan’s evidence has been described in some media quarters as 'a defining moment' in the inquiry, other observers expressed concern that it amounted to yet another attempt to shift the blame for the events away from senior military personnel and members of the British political establishment.

Campaigners have long argued that responsibility for the events of Bloody Sunday, on 30 January 1972 must ultimately rest with the government of the day and its prime minister, Ted Heath, who is set to testify to the inquiry in the New Year.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-28 16:59:50.
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