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Bloody Sunday: Para chief and judge still at odds, 50 years after massacre

Lord Saville tells BBC interview he can’t agree with Colonel’s view of 1972 events

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Massacre: Bloody Sunday in January 1972

Massacre: Bloody Sunday in January 1972

Lord Saville. Credit: PA

Lord Saville. Credit: PA

Lt Col Derek Wilford, pictured in 1999. Credit: Roland Hoskins/Daily Mail

Lt Col Derek Wilford, pictured in 1999. Credit: Roland Hoskins/Daily Mail

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Massacre: Bloody Sunday in January 1972

Lord Saville is still at odds with the former Parachute Regiment commander he blamed for the massacre of 14 innocent people on Bloody Sunday 50 years ago.

The then Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford — dubbed ‘the Butcher of the Bogside’ — was accused by the top judge in 2010 of leading “unjustifiable firing” on civilians on January 30, 1972.

The unrepentant ex-soldier has declared he will go to his grave believing he and his troops were under attack.

But in a new BBC interview that will air on Newsnight and Radio 4 to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the killings, Lord Saville branded the retired officer’s claims as totally “wrong”.

Interviewed by veteran Troubles journalist Peter Taylor, he said about the controversial veteran: “He was very loyal to his soldiers and couldn’t let them down. I don’t agree with his view of what happened.”

Thirteen people were killed when soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Derry on January 30, 1972. A 14th later died from his injuries.

In his 5,000-page report, published in 2010, Lord Saville (85) said they had been victims of “unjustifiable firing” by the paras. He also concluded none of those shot was carrying a firearm, none posed any threat, and no warnings were given before the soldiers opened fire.

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The report took 12 years and £195m to produce, making it the longest and most expensive public inquiry in UK history.

When asked by Mr Taylor if he is still sure his findings were correct, Lord Saville replied: “I very much hope so. The time it took was immense because it had to be fair to everybody, to soldiers and families.”

And when pressed on how he could be sure, the former Supreme Court justice added: “Because we spent 12 years doing this.

“We looked at every conceivable piece of evidence we could find, and those are our conclusions after analysing that evidence.”

Lord Saville’s report said Wilford either “deliberately disobeyed” orders or “failed for no good reason to appreciate the clear limits on what he had been authorised to do”.

It concluded: “Colonel Wilford should not have launched an incursion into the Bogside.”

Wilford, now 88, said in a rare interview in 2019 at his home in a small Belgian village he did not regret what his soldiers did and was angry about the Saville inquiry. Mr Taylor said: “Colonel Wilford still does not accept Saville’s findings.”

The BBC and ITV reporter (80) added in a piece in the new issue of the Radio Times that the ex-soldier told him: “We thought we were under attack, and we will remain convinced of that to the end of our days.

“I was there. Saville himself was not.”

Mr Taylor — who arrived in Derry days after the massacre when pools of blood still marked the streets — added: “The wounds are still open today, as no soldier has been prosecuted for the killings.

“John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother, Michael, was one of the victims, still burns with anger. ‘Murder is murder, no matter how long ago’, he told me. ‘Justice has to be seen to be done’.”

Wilford was reported dead by the media before he was tracked down in 2010 to his quiet home just outside the village of Montignies-lez-Lens, near the France-Belgium border.

Wilford and his wife Linda were found to be living in an ivy-covered cottage on Rue Basse, a country lane on the outskirts of the village surrounded by wheat fields, that boasts a church and just one café.

The front of their home had a brass plaque emblazoned with the words Gallery Atelier, and a phone number printed beneath.

Wilford was also found to be teaching fine art classes at a nearby Nato base for £100 per lesson.


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