The British army labelled the victims gunmen and bombers. They claimed their soldiers had met a “fusillade of fire”. No soldier or vehicle was hit.
Children praying (Colman Doyle)
Derry Coroner Hubert O’Neill later declared the killings “sheer unadulterated murder”. The hundreds of civilian eyewitnesses agreed.
On 1 February, a public inquiry headed by Lord Chief Justice Widgery was announced by British Prime Minister Ted Heath. He told Widgery that
“we were…fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war.”
Lord Widgery arrives in Northern Ireland
Widgery refused to take evidence from the vast majority of civilian eye-witnesses. He sat in Coleraine rather than Derry. Soldiers testified anonymously and in disguise. It later emerged that their statements were altered to suit the British version of events.
Widgery exonerated the Army, declaring that while
“None of the dead or wounded is proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb …there is a strong suspicion that some…had been firing weapons or handling bombs …others had been closely supporting them.”
For Free Derry, Widgery confirmed that the entire British establishment stood behind the Bloody Sunday killers.
The British army commander, Colonel Wilford, was awarded an OBE. His adjutant, Mike Jackson, later became chief of staff, Britain’s number one soldier.