David Cameron House of Commons 15 June 2010

Follow me

This is the full transcript of the statement then Prime Minister, David Cameron, made to MPs in the House of Commons on 15 June 2010, the day the Bloody Sunday report (Saville report) was published. This transcript was taken from a BBC news report and is faithfully reproduced here.

Today, 8 February 2017, the Derry Journal reported that a British veterans’ group has successfully applied to the Parades Commission to stage a protest march in Doire on 4 March 2017. They are protesting what they have described as the ongoing ‘vindictive’ criminal investigations involving former soldiers.

(Ed. Note:  Today, 9 February 2017, the Derry Journal reported the veterans’ group withdrew its application to the Parade Commission late yesterday afternoon.)

(begins) David Cameron: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry – the tribunal set up by the previous government to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. We have acted in good faith by publishing the tribunal’s findings as soon as possible after the general election.

(Ed. Note: A video of the following portion of David Cameron’s statement is available on YouTube. To listen as you read click here. )

Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who, I believe to be the finest in the world. And I’ve seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve.

But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.

Lord Saville concludes that:

  • The soldiers of the support company who went into the Bogside did so as a result of an order which should not have been given by their commander.
  • He finds that, on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army.
  • He finds that none of the casualties shot by the soldiers of support company was armed with a firearm.
  • He finds that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries but none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.
  • And he finds that in no case was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire.
  • He also finds that the support company reacted by losing their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and with a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline.
  • He finds that despite the contrary evidence given by some of the soldiers, none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers.
  • And he finds that many of the soldiers, and I quote, ‘knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing’.

What’s more, Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying.  The report refers to one person who was shot while crawling away from the soldiers. Another was shot, in all probability, when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground. Now the report refers to the father who was hit and injured by army gunfire after he had gone to tend to his son.

For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says that the immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of support company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries.

 And crucially that, and I quote, ‘none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury or indeed was doing anything else that could, on any view, justified their shooting’.

For those people who are looking for the report to use terms like ‘murder’ and ‘unlawful killing’ I remind the House that these judgments are not matters for a tribunal or for us as politicians to determine.

Mr. Speaker, these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr. Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who’ve served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.

So there’s no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.

I know that some people wonder whether, nearly forty years on from an event, [if] a prime minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through.

But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss.

Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.  (Video ends.)

Mr Speaker, just as this report is clear that the actions of that day were unjustifiable so, too, is it clear in some of its other findings. Those looking for premeditation, a plan, those even looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the armed forces, they will not find it in this report.

Indeed, Lord Saville finds no evidence that the events of Bloody Sunday were premeditated. He concludes that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland governments and the Army neither tolerated nor encouraged the use of unjustified lethal force. He makes no suggestion of a government cover up.

Mr Speaker, the report also specifically deals with the actions of key individuals in the Army, in politics and beyond, including Major-General Ford, Brigadier McLellan, and Lieutenant Colonel Wilford.

In each case, the findings are clear. It does the same for Martin McGuinness. It specifically finds he was present and probably armed with a sub-machine gun but it concludes, and I quote, ‘we’re sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire’.

Mr Speaker, while in no way justifying the events of January 30th, 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. Since  1969, the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly. Three days before Bloody Sunday, two RUC officers, one a Catholic, were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles. A third of the City of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. And in the end 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland’s bloodiest year by far, with nearly five hundred people killed. And let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007.

This was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, spanning thirty-eight years and in which over two hundred and fifty thousand people served. Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible.

And over one thousand members – a thousand members – of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work, the peace process would not have happened. Of course, some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learned. And once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe to those who served in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker, may I also thank the tribunal for its work and all those who displayed great courage in giving evidence. I would also like to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed.

They have pursued their long campaign over thirty-eight years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those who were killed but I hope, as one relative has put it, the truth coming out can help set people free.

John Major said he was open to a new inquiry, Tony Blair then set it up. This was accepted by the leader of the opposition. Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville inquiry would take twelve years or cost almost two hundred million pounds. Our views on that are  well-documented.

It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness but let me reassure the House there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past. Today is not about the controversies surrounding the process, it is about the substance, about what this report tells us. Everyone should have the chance to examine its complete findings and that is why it is being published in full.

Running to more than five thousand pages, it is being published in 10 volumes. Naturally, it will take all of us some time to digest the report’s full findings and understand its implications. The House will have an opportunity for a full day’s debate this autumn, and in the meantime the Secretaries of State in Northern Ireland for Defence will report back to me on all the issues which arise from it.

Mr Speaker, this report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times, no matter how difficult, to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, they do not make us weaker, they make us stronger.

That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists. We should never forget that over thirty-five hundred people from every community lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists.

There were many terrible atrocities. Politically-motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from. And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to draw Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past.

No government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it. But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today.

In the words of Lord Saville, what happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.

Those are words we cannot and must not ignore. But I hope what this report can also do it is mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us, and come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland’s troubled past. That is not to say we should ever forget or dismiss the past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the last twenty years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future. And it is with that determination that I commend this statement to the house. (ends)