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Army commander in Northern Ireland at time of Bloody Sunday dies

General Sir Robert Ford, Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland during Bloody Sunday, has died aged 91.

Published 29/11/2015

General Sir Robert Ford pictured in November 1971.
General Sir Robert Ford pictured in November 1971.
General Sir Robert Ford watches a republican parade at Milltown cemetery in April 1972.
General Sir Robert Ford at Ainsworth Avenue in Belfast during a tense stand-off between troops and a crowd of UDA men.

The commander of the Army in Northern Ireland at the time of the Bloody Sunday shootings has died, aged 91.

General Sir Robert Ford was Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland (CLFNI) on January 30, 1972 when soldiers of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on anti-internment protesters in Londonderry, killing 14.

Before the anti-internment march, organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, Ford sent 1 Battalion of the Parachute Regiment to travel to Londonderry in order to arrest any rioters.

Ford gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry which concluded that there was nothing to suggest that he had contemplated using lethal force against unarmed rioters who were not posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

However, it criticised his decision to deploy soldiers of the Parachute Regiment who already had a reputation for excessive physical violence.

"In our view his decision to use 1 Para as the arrest force is open to criticism but he did not know his decision would result in soldiers firing unjustifiably," said the report.

It said soldiers reacted by losing their self control and firing, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training, and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

A memo signed by Ford which was presented to the inquiry suggested a policy of shooting some rioters in order to restore law and order in the city.

In the secret memo to his superior, dated January 7, 1972, Ford said he was "coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders amongst the DYH (Derry Young Hooligans), after clear warnings have been issued".

However, he did not recommend killing the ringleaders and claimed not remember signing the memo.

Born in 1923, Ford was commissioned into the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards (4/7 RDG) in June 1943 and took part in the D-Day landings in June 1944.

He also served in operations throughout the European theatre as well as Egypt, Palestine and Trans-Jordan.

Ford succeeded Major-General Anthony Farrar-Hockley as the head of the Army in Northern Ireland in July 1971.

Following the end of his command in the province in April 1973 he headed the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and was later appointed ADC General to the Queen.

He was knighted in 1977 and served as vice-chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from 1989 to 1993.

Ford died on November 24.

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