BROOKE GLADSTONE: The reporter rarely gets the opportunity to go back, fill in the blanks, and set the record straight. But governments sometimes do. Three years ago the Labor Government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to re-open, under the direction of Lord Saville, the inquiry into the bloodbath that took place in the City of Derry in Northern Ireland on January 30th, 1972, the day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday.
TONY BLAIR: The aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions or invite fresh recriminations but to establish the truth about what happened on that day so far as that can be achieved at 26 years' distance.
PETER PRINGLE: There I was sitting in my Manhattan apartment 27 years later, and the phone goes, and it's the Saville Inquiry in London announcing to me that they have 5 of my notebooks which I had used during the time that I was in Derry in 1972, and I have to say I was shocked.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:29 years ago Peter Pringle was an investigative reporter with the Sunday Times in London when he was sent in by his editor, Harold Evans, to try and determine what happened in Derry that Sunday. [CHAOTIC BACKGROUND NOISE UP & UNDER] All was confusion and contradiction in Derry. A civil rights march was under way but no organized violence was planned by the Catholic side. The IRA had even declared it was taking the day off. Police and British regulars were tactically deployed, armed as always with purple dye-firing water cannons and rubber bullets -- all except the paratroopers straight from service in Cypress. They had their standard self-loading rifles.
PETER PRINGLE: Tell me what happened when the paratroopers came in father.
PRIEST BEING INTERVIEWED: They came in and they, they just came in firing; the people - there was no provocation whatsoever. The--
PETER PRINGLE: Firing what? Rubber bullets?
PRIEST BEING INTERVIEWED: No, it was lead bullets they fired.
PETER PRINGLE: A short while ago we filmed you leading the way with a, with a white, with a white handkerchief.
PRIEST BEING INTERVIEWED: Yes.
PETER PRINGLE: For a, a party - you were carrying a boy who was dead or dying. Now how was he shot?
PRIEST BEING INTERVIEWED: That little boy was shot when he was running away.
GENERAL ROBERT FORD: I don't believe they were shot in the back running away. A lot of us in fact do think that some of their people were shot by their own indiscriminate firing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:General Robert Ford [sp?], commander of the land forces in Ireland, said they intended only to separate the stone-throwing hooligans from hundreds of peaceful marchers and arrest them, and he denied the evidence that lay in the streets of Derry. [MULTIPLE SHOTS BEING FIRED] Only twice in 2 years had unarmed youth been shot with real bullets in Derry, but the death toll was 13 on Bloody Sunday. [MULTIPLE SHOTS BEING FIRED] The editor of the Sunday Times was Harold Evans, a journalist with an investigative bent, frequently brought before the bar for various violations of Britain's Official Secrets Act and Privacy and Libel laws.
HAROLD EVANS: The government announced that it was setting up an inquiry by Lord Widgery [sp?] and a notice came to all the editors that we should await Widgery's report to see what actually happened. After talking to him we decided what we should do was mount a parallel inquiry by sending our very best people over to--Northern Ireland so that when Widgery came out, we would be able to say an excellent report; or as in fact we did say -- Widgery is a whitewash.
HAROLD EVANS: Our idea was that we would get at the truth and we would probably get closer to the truth than the Widgery Inquiry. The - you know the - they didn't have the access that, that we did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Peter Pringle.
PETER PRINGLE:It was a curious thing to be a reporter in Northern Ireland because you could in the morning go to the normal press briefing of the British troops and in the afternoon you could cross the line if you like and go and talk to the IRA leaders.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But the most telling bit of evidence collected by Pringle and his reporting partner Philip Jacobsen were the audiotapes complete with time codes of the army's radio communications taped surreptitiously by a local shop owner.
PETER PRINGLE: Every afternoon when the, when the, the agro's started and the "young Derry hooligans" as the army called them started throwing stones, Mr. Porter of the - Porter's Television would go into his upstairs room and record the army messages, and he made a full recording on this day.
ARMY MAN: [...?...] zero this is 7 6-- [too ?] high velocity of shots were heard in the area of--3-- of the Rossville [sp?] Flats. People are lying on the ground now, they're--
PETER PRINGLE: It was a stunning piece of evidence which the British government inquiry under Lord Widgery rejected. Why did they reject it? They rejected it because they said it had been made in - sort of clandestinely and-- was against the Official Secrets Act and couldn't be used in evidence. Well of course if you don't use the tape, then you can't reconstruct the day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Soon after the Widgery Inquiry was released exonerating the British Army of any wrongdoing, Pringle and Jacobson published their 12,000 word account of Bloody Sunday in the Sunday Times. Conservative members of Parliament accused Harold Evans of betraying his country, but otherwise the story barely made a ripple, and it sank under the weight of Widgery and a largely unsympathetic public into a sea of subsequent events.
PETER PRINGLE: It was so fast-moving that nobody had time to stop and, and examine the difference between the government's report and our report, but it-- it had no-- shelf life beyond about a week. After Bloody Sunday there was Bloody Friday, there was Bloody Wednesday, there was Bloody Thursday and more people died in a single event in those bombings and shootings than they did at Bloody Sunday.
HAROLD EVANS: How did they get into this mess?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Harold Evans.
HAROLD EVANS: There were so many theories being bandied around that had no basis in fact [LAUGHS] --so and so saying it's all the fault of-- Lloyd George or so and so saying it's all the fault of the IRA, it was all the fault of De Valera [sp?] or Michael Collins, but what are the facts? So once you resolved to get into the facts of the situation you have a tremendous momentum to continue until you've nailed as far as you can that shadowy, elusive thing called truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The frustration of investigative work is that you may see it and feel it and even write it, but you only have one change to get out the word unless by some miracle it comes around again, which brings us back to Pringle and his moldering notebooks which had languished for 27 years in the archives of the Sunday Times until the Saville Inquiry demanded the Times hand them over. And the paper, under the aegis of managing editor Richard Caseby [sp?] and owner Rupert Murdoch, complied.
PETER PRINGLE: I wondered immediately what my notebooks looked like. I wondered immediately what on earth they might contain that I didn't want anybody else to know. I wondered whether they would want me to translate them from my very shaky shorthand, and why I would do that and whether I should do that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Pringle finally determined that he should, though he won't divulge his sources as Lord Saville demands. He doesn't actually believe that Lord Saville will arrive at the truth. Too many people are dead or they can no longer remember or they remain silent still, but he does hope for a proper reckoning for the people of Derry.
PETER PRINGLE: Mrs. Keegan [sp?] went into the Bogside yesterday after an appalling weekend. I suppose the, the atmosphere there was very tense wasn't it?
MRS. KEEGAN: It was. It was very fraught. Little knots of people standing around talking quietly, looking very ashen-faced. The main reaction is that they just can't see any solution.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Peter Pringle and Philip Jacobson have written a new full length account of that day. It's called Those Are Real Bullets: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972. Pringle says that having a second chance to report on that day is magical. But even this account is not and can never be complete.
PETER PRINGLE: Think of this -- 13 people died on Bloody Sunday. The compensation that was worked out 2 years after the event for the four teenagers who died was 250 pounds per dead body given to the relatives. When I first heard this, I thought to myself -I would love to end this book with an interview with the civil servant who signed the check to give 250 pounds to the mother of a teenager who was shot in the back.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:He never got that interview. Meanwhile the Saville Inquiry has heard from nearly 500 witnesses. It's not expected to finish until 2004 at a cost likely to exceed 150 million dollars.