Bloody Sunday Times


The Daily News has covered the Irish peace referendum as aggressively as any paper in America, sending top columnists Jim Dwyer and Fintan O’Toole to Belfast and Dublin respectively for daily dispatches leading up to last Friday’s vote.

But here is a tale from Ireland you won’t read in the News: Harold Evans, the veteran English editor who is now the News‘s vice chairman and editorial director, once helped bury compelling evidence that the British military planned in advance the infamous 1972 Londonderry attack known as “Bloody Sunday.” (Thirteen Irish civilians were killed–several as young as 17–and 14 were injured when British soldiers fired into a protest march. No soldiers were killed.)

That evidence was uncovered by two journalists whom Evans–then the editor of the London Sunday Times–had sent to Northern Ireland to cover the fallout from the massacre. Having assembled “at least one hundred pieces of evidence”–including eyewitness accounts, interviews with survivors, and indirect contact with the Irish Republican Army–the Sunday Times reporters concluded that Bloody Sunday had resulted from a planned special operation by the British Paratroop regiment, “which went disastrously wrong.”

Rather than publish the explosive story–dated 3 February 1972, four days after the attack–Evans killed it. He reportedly gave a copy to the Widgery Inquiry, the official British government body established to investigate Bloody Sunday. In the hands of British investigators, the unpublished document apparently vanished for a quarter-century. A copy has been found in an Irish archive; portions of it have recently been published in Irish media outlets sympathetic to Sinn Fein and the republican cause.

Derek Humphry, one of the Sunday Times reporters sent to Northern Ireland, confirmed last week that he and a colleague wrote and submitted a 10-page story presenting evidence that the British military planned to break up the Londonderry march–knowing that it would cause civilian casualties.

“That’s what we believed then, and I stand by it,” Humphry told the Voice in a telephone interview.

Humphry’s reporting partner from 1972, Murray Sayle, currently resides in Japan. Sayle did not respond directly to a Voice fax seeking comment, but said through two intermediaries that he continues to believe that British soldiers planned the attack on civilians.

Evans, whose Times reputation was as a crusading liberal investigative journalist, was not available for comment. Last Thursday, responding to a detailed fax, Evans’s assistant left a Washington, D.C., phone number where, she said, Evans could be reached for 15 minutes. When the number was dialed five minutes later, it turned out to be Mortimer Zuckerman’s office at U.S. News&World Report, and Evans was said to have left. On Friday, as the Voice went to press, Evans did not respond to either a second fax or several messages left at his New York office.

BLOODY SUNDAY was one of the most convulsive events in the troubled recent history of northern Ireland. It led directly to the burning of the British embassy in Dublin, and inspired Bernadette Devlin, a Member of Parliament from Ulster, to punch Home Secretary Reginald Maudling in the House of Commons; she accused him of lying about the shootings.

The event resonates to this day. A writer for the Sunday Telegraph earlier this year referred to the mountains that stand between Northern Irish history and peace: “Standing above all those peaks remains the Everest of Northern Ireland travails, the one which will not go away, you know, and which is unavoidable from whichever angle one views the past quarter of a century in the province: Bloody Sunday.”

When the Widgery Inquiry issued its report on the shootings, it exonerated the British soldiers, having determined that none fired until they were fired upon. Yet it acknowledged that there was no evidence that any of the 13 civilians killed were armed when they were shot.

Humphry–who, coincidentally, is also the author of the controversial suicide self-help book The Final Exit–said it would likely have been illegal for the Times to publish the story when it was written. For decades, British law has greatly circumscribed journalists’ ability to report on matters related to security in general and Northern Ireland in particular. In this instance, it was probably illegal to publish the Humphry­ Sayle report while the official inquiry was ongoing.

“We always thought that they called the commission’s inquiry as a ruse to block our story,” Humphry told the Voice. “Harry Evans, had he run our story, would’ve risked imprisonment.”

Nonetheless, the Widgery Inquiry issued its report in April 1972, and Humphry readily conceded that the Times could have published its own findings any time after that. “Things had probably moved on by then,” Humphry speculated.

But where Northern Ireland is concerned, very little ever moves on. Many observers believe that the failure of the Widgery Inquiry to deliver due process for the deaths of the Irish marchers inflamed the Irish republican opposition, destroying whatever hopes were building in the early ’70s for Irish peace.

And charges that the Widgery Inquiry covered up the British military’s excesses are being officially investigated even now. Indeed, several recent reports have reached conclusions similar to the unpublished Times story.

Last year, a statement surfaced from a British paratrooper identified as “Soldier A,” in which he admitted that he and his colleagues were told by an officer the night before the march: “Let’s teach these buggers a lesson–we want some kills tomorrow.”

Equally disturbing was Soldier A’s assertion that British lawyers destroyed the original statement he had prepared for the inquiry, substituting instead their own statement for him to sign, which omitted key details. Soldier A’s confessions gained wide currency when they were broadcast as part of a 1997 documentary on Britain’s Channel 4.

This past January, the Blair government agreed to reopen an investigation into Bloody Sunday. In April, the Dublin Sunday Tribune quoted from a sworn affidavit given by an unnamed Bloody Sunday eyewitness, saying that a high-ranking British official had told her the night before the march to avoid the area because “this is going to be one bloody Sunday.”

Had Evans and the Times published what their reporters knew back in 1972–or any time in the ensuing 26 years–they might well have forced this evidence into the open decades earlier.

One wonders whether Evans’s journalistic conscience ever tugged him toward publishing the version of events his reporters found. In the foreword to Northern Ireland: A Report on the Conflict, a book published by Times reporters in 1972, Evans wrote elliptically of a British “clamor for self-censorship” that followed some of the Times‘s reporting on Northern Ireland. This prompted Evans to quote H. L. Mencken: “Reporters come in as newspaper men, trained to get the news, and eager to get it; they end as tin-horn statesmen, full of dark secrets and unable to write the truth if they tried.”

Peretz Speaks!

In the flood of articles that have appeared about The New Republic‘s Stephen Glass fiasco, there is one voice conspicuously absent: that of TNR “editor-in-chief and chairman” Martin Peretz. Peretz did not make himself available on the record to The Washington Post or Forbes Digital Tool–the publications that first exposed Glass’s multiple fictional efforts–or any of the follow-ups, letting editor Charles Lane speak instead.

Tracked down by the Voice, Peretz actually said a couple of sensible things. When I mentioned to Peretz the paragraph in Jack Shafer’s Slate article listing no fewer than 20 names of organizations, people, and entities in Glass’s TNR articles that appear to have been fabricated, he agreed that it was devastating. “We’re going to produce our own list,” Peretz pledged.

And Peretz agreed that the magazine erred in not catching Glass sooner. “In retrospect,” Peretz said, Glass “was probably always sending us signals” that his work was phony. Peretz pointed to the name of the bogus software firm in the article that finally tripped Glass up–Jukt Micronics–suggesting that Jukt was a word for a trick. Could be–the Oxford English Dictionary includes an old English verb jouk meaning to move swiftly to elude, so Jukt might have been a homonym for the verb’s past tense.

Most of the rest of the conversation was off the record, but Peretz made it clear that he feels The New Republic‘s reputation and credibility have not been harmed by Glass’s lies. Judging from the spate of editorials last week in The Washington Post, Washington Times, and New York Post, that is a minority view.

An Unplanned Vacation?

During the first four months of 1998, New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata averaged just under eight stories a month. Between May 1 and May 22–the Voice‘s early deadline for Memorial Day–however, Kolata has published one: her front-page May 3 article ladling optimism over two experimental cancer treatments. Kolata’s sudden drop in productivity is fueling rumors that the Times temporarily suspended Kolata after the firestorm that accompanied that story.

But the Times says it ain’t so. Executive editor Joe Lelyveld said Friday through a Times publicist: “Gina has not been put on suspension of any kind.”

Research: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 2, 1998

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