The UK Bloody Sunday Inquiry [official website] released a report [text] Tuesday concluding that casualties resulting from a 1972 attack on Northern Ireland civilians by British forces were unjustified. The inquiry was launched in 1998 by former prime minister Tony Blair [Guardian backgrounder] in response to pressure from the victims' families. The report concluded that British soldiers fired upon unarmed civilians without warning during an illegal civil rights march in Londonderry. The inquiry also found that the soldiers continued to shoot the civilians as they were fleeing the gunfire. The military unit originally held that they were aiming at armed individuals who were allegedly Irish Republican Army [Global Security backgrounder] militants, but the investigation concluded that no soldiers suffered injuries from returned fire. The onslaught killed 13 civilians and wounded 15. UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] apologized [transcript] for the soldiers' malfeasance stating that although the atrocity happened almost 40 years ago, the victims and their families still deserved an apology from the current government for the mistakes of those in the past:
I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behavior of our soldiers and our Army who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have 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. ... 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 - and indeed our country - I am deeply sorry.The victims' families requested the investigation in order for their loved ones to be exonerated from being labeled IRA bombers and gunmen and to hold the British contingent responsible for the unjustified killings.
The Bloody Sunday inquiry is the longest and most expensive public investigation in British legal history. The government deposed more than 900 witnesses [JURIST report] in 432 days of testimony and took more than 1,500 written statements. The soldiers held responsible for the killings attempted to take action against the inquiry in 2004, arguing against the use of any standard below the criminal standard of proof because of the potential consequences facing them. Inquiry Chairman Lord Saville of Newdigate determined that the tribunal would not use a criminal standard of proof [JURIST report] to find if a soldier shot anyone without justification because the tribunal was merely investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths and issuing a report. The investigation came to fruition after the Irish government in 1997 produced new evidence that cast doubts on the conduct of the original tribunal established at the time of the incident, which labeled the victims as bombers and gunmen.