By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Confidential documents discovered as part of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry have revealed the British Army was secretly planning to assassinate "selected ringleaders" in Derry, at the time of Bloody Sunday, to regain control of the city.
A British Army spokesman said this week he could not confirm or deny the reports that people living in the Creggan and Bogside areas of Derry were to be shot dead by British soldiers in January 1972.
The documents appear to confirm what many have believed since the Bloody Sunday shootings: That they were as a result of political orders at the highest level and not the result of individual soldiers "overreacting."
One of the memos, entitled "The Situation in Londonderry as at 7 January 1972", is said to have been written by the commander of land forces in the North, Gen. Robert Ford, and addressed to the general officer commanding British forces, Lieut. Gen. Sir Harry Tuzo.
That same month, on Jan. 30, 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment during a civil rights march in Derry. A fourteenth civilian died from wounds a few weeks later. After more than 25 years campaigning, the British government recently ordered a new inquiry into the shootings.
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According to Derry-based author and journalist Eamon McCann, the memo is one of several documents passed to the Bloody Sunday inquiry under Lord Saville.
Another British Ministry of Defense memorandum is said to consider the possibility of letting the Bogside and Creggan "rot from within" by spreading disease and allowing essential services to breakdown. The option of ceding the areas to the Republic was also discussed.
In his memo, Gen. Ford, then the second-in-command of the British army in Northern Ireland, is reported to conclude that the "minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders."
Another document available to Lord Saville is said to be a confidential paper entitled "Marches in 1972," written only three days before Bloody Sunday by Lieut. Col. Harry Dalzell-Payne "to try and anticipate some of the problems we may face on Monday, 31 January 1972, if events on Sunday prove our worst fears."
According to the paper, stronger military measures would have to be taken to uphold the ban on marches. Such measures would, however, "inevitably lead to further accusations of brutality and ill-treatment of non-violent demonstrators."
A British Army spokesman said Monday he had not seen the documents but could not deny they existed, either. "In situations like the one in Derry in 1972, senior officers would have a responsibility to discuss `worst case scenarios,’ " he said.