Bloody Sunday families thrilled as victims cleared

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Relatives of the 13 men gunned down on Bloody Sunday punched the air in relief and jubilation Tuesday, as a long-awaited report into the 1972 killings finally cleared their names.

Within minutes of the Saville report's publication the families -- who had been given a few hours to read its 5,000 pages -- emerged to address thousands of people gathered outside the town hall in Londonderry.

One by one they read out the victims' names, saying simply: "Innocent."

The crowd responded with whoops and cheers, just as they had moments earlier when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the 12-year inquiry had found British troops unjustifiably opened fire on a civil rights march.

"It can now be proclaimed to the world that the dead and the wounded of Bloody Sunday, civil rights marchers, one and all, were innocent, one and all," said Tony Doherty, whose father Paddy died that day on January 30, 1972.

"It was the paratroopers' mission in Derry to massacre. Bloody Sunday wounded Derry very, very badly. We may hope that from today we can begin to bind those wounds.

The Saville report marked the end of a long battle to win justice for the victims, after an original inquiry took the army's view that the protesters were armed and the soldiers were provoked.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was one of seven teenagers killed that day, said the report confirmed the victims "were ordinary, decent Derry people", not gunmen and bombers.

"That was the verdict we wanted and that was the verdict we have today," he said, ending with a shout: "We have overcome!" -- a variant of the US civil rights slogan.

The relatives had a chance to read the report before Cameron's announcement and gave the crowd gathered outside a sneak preview with a simple but unmistakable thumbs up through a window -- prompting an explosion of cheers.

Bloody Sunday was a key moment of the three decades of civil strife between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, the victims of which were remembered with a minute's silence here.

But in Londonderry -- known to Catholics as Derry -- it weighed particularly heavily. Suspicion was cast on all the families of the victims and those who marched every year on the anniversary, while everyone knows someone involved.

"It's a great weight off not just our family but the people of Derry," said Seamus Gallagher, whose uncle Michael McDaid was among the dead.

Jubilant but emotional, he told AFP the report was "unbelievable", adding: "Cameron's statement was as good as you'll ever get from a British government, admitting culpability, and I'm just delighted."

Earlier, about 60 relatives walked silently through the town bearing black and white photographs of the dead, followed hours later by a public procession of thousands of people culminating near a big screen outside the town hall.

Among the crowd was Paul Coyle, 47, who said report author Lord Mark Saville had done a "wonderful thing".

With his voice breaking, he said that day "has never left me".

"I lived close to the church where the coffins were brought and going and looking across 13 coffins as an eight-year-old in your local church -- its very, very difficult," he said.

Many of the relatives read out extracts of the Saville report that vindicated their loved ones, including Liam Wray, who said it found his brother Jim was "targeted while posing no threat, and shot in the back".

"As he lay there, defenceless and dying, he was deliberately shot again. The Saville Report stated clearly that there was no justification for either of these two shots," he said.

Wray added: "Now the world knows the truth. Jim was murdered. Jim was innocent."

However, some were sceptical about the lack of blame cast in the report.

"What I would want to see is something about who made the decisions on the day -- we know who shot who but we don't know who said it was a good idea. So for me that's an important part," said Martin Gallagher, 54.

© 2010 AFP

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