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Saville report on Bloody Sunday massacre exonerates victims

Nearly 40 years after 14 Catholic civil rights marchers were killed by British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, the UK's Saville report on Bloody Sunday exonerated the marchers. But prosecutions look unlikely, analysts say.

By Correspondent / June 15, 2010

Relatives and family members of those killed and injured in the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings make their way to the Guildhall to receive a preview of the Saville report in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, Tuesday.

Peter Morrison/AP

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Dublin

All those shot dead by the British Army in Northern Ireland's infamous Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 were unarmed and innocent, according to a British government report released today that repudiated an earlier investigation that had accused the civil rights marchers of carrying weapons and provoking the violence.

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The long-awaited Saville inquiry into the killing of 14 people and the injuring of 29 more in the city of Derry on Jan. 30, 1972 criticized the soldiers and officers involved and said they gave false testimony about the events of the day to deflect blame onto their victims.

The Saville report, the result of the longest and most expensive investigation in British legal history, should bring some measure of closure to one of the ugliest and most contested chapters in the history of Northern Ireland's "troubles." The official Widgery report of 1972 had exonerated the Army, claiming that soldiers came under fire and that forensic evidence showed those killed handled explosives.

The relatives of the dead considered the report a whitewash, and have been fighting for years to set the record straight. The report released today, which took 12 years and £195 million ($287 million) to complete, appears to do just that.

British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized to the families of those killed. He said he was "deeply sorry" and that the findings were "shocking ... what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong."

There had been much speculation that lawsuits and possible prosecutions would follow. But the report, whose lead author is the former judge Lord Saville, did not refer to the actions as “unlawful killings," something that analysts said makes prosecutions unlikely.

“It certainly doesn’t sound like he [Saville] had the desire or the wherewithal to recommend prosecutions,” says political consultant Mick Fealty, a commentator on Irish affairs who edits the political blog SluggerOToole.com.

Mr. Cameron refused to talk about possible prosecutions, saying he did not wish to prejudice any future actions, including civil suits.

Shot in the back

The 10-volume, 5,000-page report found that the British Army opened fire on unarmed protesters complaining of anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland. The report says that none of the victims posed a threat. It notes people shot in the back, people shot while already injured, and one man who was shot in the back while crawling away to take cover from fire.

The report firmly rejected the testimony of soldiers, saying that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing." The soldiers that day lost self-control and there was a "serious and widespread loss of fire discipline," the inquiry found.

Relatives of the dead celebrated the report’s release in Derry.

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