Frank Kitson

Frank Kitson

WITH THE Crown’s decision last month not to prosecute the paratroopers who perjured themselves at the Saville inquiry, a number of doors slammed shut on the deepest secrets of Bloody Sunday. A further possible avenue closed with the recent deaths of General Frank Kitson and Col Derek Wilford. General Patrick MacLellan, another key figure in Bloody Sunday, died at the end of April, but at least he passed some of the secrets of that foul day to an Irish author in 2020.

MacLellan, whose wife had Irish roots and relatives in Kinsale, was in command of the British Army in Derry on Bloody Sunday. He viewed Derry as a nationalist area and had developed a policy of soaking up the violence generated by nationalist rioters while the politicians strove to reach a political settlement. That meant tolerating ‘Free Derry’, a place that was off-limits to the RUC and the British Army. MacLellan’s immediate superior, Gen Robert Ford, was aghast.

Ford was an admirer of then Brigadier Frank Kitson, who believed in hammering nationalist communities into submission. Kitson was aided and abetted by Wilford, the commander of 1 Para, during his reign of terror in Belfast. The pair produced the Ballymurphy massacre, in which 11 people were murdered by British troops.

Ford and Kitson were exasperated at MacLellan’s softly, softly approach.

Military intelligence, which reported to Ford, had an agent in Derry, James Miller. He was a lift engineer, which gave him access to the Rossville flats in the Bogside. But Miller was a conman and concocted a story in the week running up to Bloody Sunday that he had witnessed some 40 IRA auxiliaries practising to shoot at the British Army during the civil rights march scheduled for the end of that week.

Ford went to Derry on that fateful day accompanied by his own mobile communications truck and armed bodyguards. He ‘lent’ 1 Para to MacLellan for the day. Secretly, and contrary to MacLellan’s express orders, Wilford readied the deadly C Company of 1 Para to sweep into the Bogside.

In 2020 the discreet MacLellan told author David Burke that Miller’s intelligence had been withheld from him, the man most entitled to receive it. Burke did not reveal MacLellan as one of his sources but included the information Kitson’s Irish War. Burke concluded that Ford did not want MacLellan to learn about the IRA ambush party lest he keep the army away from the Rossville flats danger zone and the author argues that Ford wanted to invade and “retake” the Bogside.

On Bloody Sunday, Wilford chomped at the bit to deploy while MacLellan held him on a tight leash. Eventually Ford ordered MacLellan to release the paratroopers. C Company leaped out of personnel carriers with guns ablaze at the spot where Miller alleged the IRA would be waiting. But the IRA was not there. Nonetheless, the paratroopers shot all around them, including at a balcony on the Rossville flats where Miller had alleged the IRA had been training. Lord Saville failed to appreciate the significance of Miller’s lies and blamed the massacre on an inexplicable rampage by 1 Para.

Soldier F is probably the last person who truly knows what happened on Bloody Sunday. He awaits his trial for murder.

Ozone 05-03-24

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