seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Widgery Report Is Released

john-passmore-widgeryJohn Passmore Widgery, Baron Widgery, English judge who serves as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 1971 to 1980, issues his report exonerating “Bloody Sunday” troops on April 19, 1972.

Widgery receives promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1968. He has barely gotten used to his new position when Lord Parker of Waddington, who had been Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales since 1958, announces his retirement. There is no obvious successor and Widgery is the most junior of the possible appointees. The Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone, chooses Widgery largely on the basis of his administrative abilities. On April 20, 1971 he is created a life peer taking the title Baron Widgery, of South Molton in the County of Devon.

Shortly after taking over, Widgery is handed the politically sensitive job of conducting an inquiry into the events of January 30, 1972 in Derry, where troops from 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment had murdered 13 civil rights marchers, commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. A 14th person dies shortly after Widgery’s appointment. He hears testimony from the paratroopers, who claim they had been shot at, while the marchers insist that no one from the march was armed. Widgery produces a report that takes the British Army‘s side. He placed the main blame for the deaths on the march organisers for creating a dangerous situation where a confrontation was inevitable. His strongest criticism of the Army is that the “firing bordered on the reckless.”

The Widgery Report is accepted by the British government and Northern Ireland‘s unionists but is immediately denounced by Irish nationalist politicians, and people in the Bogside and Creggan areas are disgusted by his findings. The British Government had acquired some goodwill because of its suspension of the Stormont Parliament, but that disappears when Widgery’s conclusions are published. The grievance with Widgery’s findings lingers and the issue remains live as the Northern Ireland peace process advances in the 1990s.

In January 1998, on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Blair announces a new inquiry, criticising the rushed process in which Widgery failed to take evidence from those wounded and did not personally read eyewitness accounts. The resulting Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasts 12 years before the Saville Report is published on June 15, 2010. It demolishes the Widgery Report, finding that soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have been attacked.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on behalf of the United Kingdom, formally apologises for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” events of Bloody Sunday. As a result of the Saville Report, even observers who are natural supporters of the British Army now regard Widgery as discredited. The conservative historian and commentator Max Hastings describes the Widgery report as “a shameless cover-up.”

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The Release of the Birmingham Six

birmingham-sixThe Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – are released from jail on March 14, 1991 after their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs are quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs – the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street. Up until this point, the resulting explosions collectively are the most injurious attacks in Great Britain since World War II. Ten people at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town are killed and 182 people are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six are taken into custody on the evening of November 21. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.The following morning, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Hugh Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

On May 12, 1975 the six men are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle. After legal arguments the statements made in November are deemed admissible as evidence. The unreliability of these statements is later established. Forensic scientist Dr. Frank Skuse uses positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all had tested negative. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to 21 life sentences.

In March 1976 their first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that “in the light of the fresh scientific evidence, which at least throws grave doubt on Dr. Skuse’s evidence, if it does not destroy it altogether, these convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory.” On March 14, 1991 the six walk free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The success of the appeals and other miscarriages of justice cause the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. The commission reports in 1993 and leads to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 which establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers are charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but are never prosecuted. During the inquest into the bombings in 2016, Hill states that he knows the identities of three of the bombers who are still “free men” in Ireland.