Douglas Murray – Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, Book Review

imageThe aftermath of the Saville Inquiry into the events around Bloody Sunday has left me, and I suspect many others, with one enduring image: Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology in the House of Commons, where he says that the actions of the British Army were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable.’

But there’s a lot more to the findings of the Saville Inquiry than that. Douglas Murray’s 2011 book, Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, distils some of the most relevant and intriguing information uncovered, raising tough questions that remain unanswered, and – most importantly – putting the suffering of the victims and their families centre stage.

Murray has a reputation as a young British intellectual with conservative leanings, who has been called ‘the right’s answer to Michael Moore.’ He is now Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society think tank in London, has controversial views on Islam, and is the author of the 2005 book Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.

It’s possible that the political views inherent in Murray’s biography will alienate a segment of readers (or alternatively endear those who share his views), who will find it difficult to countenance his analysis of the Saville Inquiry in light of his views on other issues. Indeed, I would be suspicious about Murray’s views on Islam (he has said ‘Islam has failed Europe’, among other things).

Murray also at times uses strong language (he calls people murderers and terrorists) and makes harsh judgements. I have my own doubts about how helpful it is to persist in this type of labelling or name-calling in public debate. But it would be a pity to let Murray’s political leanings and language prevent people from reading this book, which is sharply written, pacey, and moving in many parts. Readers can decide themselves if his biography and his language get too far in the way of everything else that the writes.

At one level, the book is valuable simply for its summary of the vast information contained in the Saville Report. The printed version of the Saville Report is itself ten thick volumes, while Murray tells us that the initial evidence of the inquiry is 160 volumes. That’s a total of between 20 and 30 million words, as well as 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 110 videotapes (p. 315). (See for the full report as well as the wider body of evidence, including the transcripts of named and anonymous witnesses). Cameron’s ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ sound bite in some ways has glossed over the quantity and the complexity of these findings.

Murray also works at the emotional level, primarily through his vivid portrayals of victims’ stories. The opening chapter describes the deaths of Patrick Doherty and Barney McGuigan in all their heart-rending tragedy, underlying the injustice and the human cost of what happened on that day.

Murray in fact uses the McGuigan family story to frame one of his main arguments in the book: that a violent response to Bloody Sunday was both futile and immoral. Murray chose to end his book this way (p. 313):

Barney McGuigan’s son, Charles, meanwhile would have been better justified than most in deciding that he should avenge the army, the security forces, or the government that stood behind them. But nor did he choose to do so in the years after his father’s death. To Lord Saville he recounted how, ‘at the time of my father’s death, my mother cleared a space in our kitchen and made me kneel under the Sacred Heart picture and swear to her that I would never do anything about my father’s death that would bring shame on the name of the family. Having lost her husband, I believe that my mother was determined that she would not lose any other member of her family as a result of what had happened.’ He finished, ‘I have honoured that promise to this day.’

All of these people, and many others, realised that they had a choice. And, like many others who have no memorials and are rarely recognised, they made the most important decision of all. They decided that in response to murder they did not have to become murderers themselves. If the peace in Northern Ireland is ever secured fully it will be when the exaltation of the men of violence is consigned to the past and people exalt instead men and women of peace like those who set out one cold, bright afternoon, marching for justice, and managed for the course of a lifetime never to lose sight of that goal.

For Murray there are murderers both in the British Army and in the various expressions of the IRA. For example, his chapter devoted to Soldier F is unflinching in its condemnation of this man’s actions, as well as in its judgement that his testimony to the inquiry was less than forthright.

Murray is also tough on Martin McGuinness. Just in case readers are in any doubt about what Murray thinks of our Deputy First Minister, he titles the chapter devoted to his evidence: ‘The Terrorist: Martin McGuinness.’

Murray’s descriptions of McGuinness’ testimony are on the one hand entertaining, showing us how McGuinness was able to outwit and out-talk those questioning him. On the other hand, Murray suggests that McGuinness, like Soldier F, was not fully open with the inquiry, and claims that he intimidated other people in the city so that they would not reveal certain aspects of what happened on the day.

For example, Murray examines the well-known claim that McGuinness fired the ‘first shot’ on Bloody Sunday, from a submachine gun. Murray reports that Saville found that it could ‘make no finding’ on whether or not he did. But in his chapter on ‘Agents and Handlers’ Murray considers the claim made by an intelligence agent known as ‘Infliction’, shortly after Bloody Sunday, that McGuinness had admitted firing a shot, and that furthermore he felt guilty about this.

Infliction did not testify at the inquiry because it was believed this would compromise his/her anonymity. Murray covered much of this ground in a condensed form in an article in the Telegraph the day after the Saville Report was released, but he goes even further in the book, speculating (among other options, of course), that McGuinness himself could even be Infliction.

The book also includes chapters devoted to Bernadette Devlin, Colonel Wilford, and Prime Minister Edward Heath.

This book raises many issues and questions that remain unanswered – and I am not talking about specific questions like what exactly Martin McGuinness did during every minute of Bloody Sunday. Running throughout the book are important underlying issues that arise when trying to discern how to deal with the past. These include:

  • Memory itself is problematic, as people struggle to remember events that happened so long ago and to discern which memories are truly their own and which have been influenced by subsequent video, audio and written reports.
  • People won’t always tell the truth, even when under oath and (theoretically) guaranteed anonymity.
  • In most cases, the suffering of victims and survivors has not been adequately recognised.
  • ‘Memorialising’ the past is problematic, as certain actors have more power and are better able to get their version of history accepted in the public sphere.

The Saville Inquiry cost a lot of money and took a long time to come to its findings. It’s unrealistic to think that every event during Northern Ireland’s Troubles will receive the attention that Bloody Sunday has received. But the underlying issues raised in this book, indeed highlighted by the Saville Inquiry, must be addressed for there to be a sustainable transition from violence.

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at

  • Just two points………the first is that I can never take Henry Jackson types seriously. They have a curious foothold in some local academic circles but appear to have “peaked” ….possibly because recent wars have proved them wrong.

    Secondly I actually DONT think its unhelpful to use the word “terrorist”. I often use it myself. I dont think it has to be used in a “negative” way. Its a mere fact that Terrorism is the means by which one side fought their war and “counter terrorism” which does not have to be used “positively” was the means that the other side fought that war.
    Both so far as I am concerned are neutral terms.
    Terrorism is a form of Warfare.
    Warfare is a form of Terrorism.

    We usually couple the words “Truth” and “Reconciliation” and sometimes you just cant help both.
    The Reconciliation Process….even if such a thing is possible (and I dont think it is) probably finds “terrorism” an unhelpful word. …but the Truth Process (if thats possible) reuires words like “terrorism” to be used.

    “Murder” is of course more subjective….unfortunately.

  • Rory Carr

    In his article in the Daily Telegraph on speculation that Martin McGuinness fired the first shot that day according to information allegedly supplied to British intelligence by an informer whose code name was given as Infliction, Murray writes as follows:

    “On the face of it, “not giving much weight” should cause McGuinness to sigh with relief. But the “above” material in question is complex – for it is based on the impossibility of Infliction being called to give evidence. That impossibility was based on the fact that among other things, McGuinness would become aware who Infliction was were he to give evidence. In other words, the only reason some of Infliction’s claims can’t be given “much weight” is because of the no-show. But this does not mean that Infliction material can be dismissed:

  • Rory Carr

    Apologies = wrong button pressed before I had completed.


    Here Murray explains Saville’s reluctance to apply “much weight” to the information allegedly supplied by Infliction because of, argues Murray, the fact that Infliction was unable to appear to give testimony (even anonymously as did the alphabetised soldiers?) and by inference that, if he had appeared and given evidence, then a lot of weight would have been given to his evidence. Murray then slyly infers that somehow Infliction’s non-appearance adds the weight that Saville was reluctant to apply.

    A more objective observer might well consider that there were other reasons for Infliction not to appear. The first is that that he did not in fact exist which would, we must agree, make his appearance exceedingly difficult. Another and more compelling reason is that his evidence would have been subject to rigourous cross-examination and that might have sliced so much flesh off his testimony that Saville might have been more inclined to conclude, not that he could not give “much weight” to it, but that it had no weight whatsoever, much like so much of the testimony of Soldier F.

  • Decimus


    Just as well you added your second post before HQ read the first one. 🙂

  • “the wider body of evidence, including the transcripts of named and anonymous witnesses”

    Gladys, it seems rather curious to me that TS140, the transcript of Denis Bradley’s evidence, has not been included in the online archive. Here’s a repeat of something I posted previously [10 October 2011 at 3:23 pm] – a portion of it is available here on the BBC:

    [DB] said: “At that particular time I was a Catholic priest.

    “Many people spoke to me about many things; people from the Provisional IRA, people from the Official IRA, people from the British Army, people from the RUC.

    “Most of it would have been confidential and I would have considered it confessional and I would not be in a position to actually say what they told me.”

    Lord Saville eventually got a bit fed up with DB’s time-wasting:

    Lord Saville said: “These people who you feel uncomfortable in naming, would you feel uncomfortable in quietly going to them and urging them to come forward voluntarily to the tribunal so that we can, as I think you want us to, find out the whole truth about Bloody Sunday?”

    Ten years on and Dennis still doesn’t appear to have got the message: “Those who hold important secrets are not going to talk” – he being one of them.

  • Rory Carr

    …and Infliction being another. But then his father-confessors in British intelligence were right little blabber-mouths when compared to Dennis, although they did share the same lack of enthusiasm for urging their informants to come forward and be examined.

  • Turgon

    FJH as ever is correct. The term terrorist is entirely appropriate. The term murderer is only inappropriate in the technical sense that neither Soldier F nor McGuinness have ever been convicted of murder: as such neither are murderers in that sense. However, the dead of Bloody Sunday were murdered and if people want to use the term murdered and murderers I think we should be very wary of suggesting such comments are “unhelpful”. A better term might be accurate.

    If one talks to victims they tend to use the term murderer and terrorist to describe the people who killed their loved ones (at least all the ones I have ever had dealings with do).

    Those terms may not be popular with some professional peace processors in the peace process industry, but the reality is that the people they are meant to be helping (the victims – remember them) seem to regard those terms as entirely appropriate and anything else as a gross insult to their relatives.

    This week has seen the conviction for murder of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. I am fascinated as to whether or not it is “unhelpful” to use the term murderer about those two. Or is it only in Northern Ireland where such terms are “unhelpful”. Just to “help” in 1993, 88 people died here in the Troubles. I am fascinated were none of the people who killed any of them “terrorists” or “murderers” or is that another “unhelpful” question.

  • I was interested to read Marko Attila Hoare’s reservations about Murray.

    I worked through the ten volumes of the Savile report in the weeks after it came out, which may be a useful half-way house for those who want to read a bit more than the executive summary without doing he whole thing.

  • “I have my own doubts about how helpful it is to persist in this type of labelling or name-calling in public debate.”

    Gladys, perhaps you could expand on this theme in a separate blog. Is it conceivable that accuracy in the use of language can be counter-productive, not least for victims?

  • Turgon

    I speak for no one save myself. However, I observe that I know quite a number of victims and none of them feel the use of the term terrorist or murderer in the least inappropriate for the person who killed their loved one.

    Indeed the idea that it is “unhelpful” or counterproductive or whatever seems to be more likely to be an insult to the sufffering brought upon them. Again I ask is it “unhelpful” to call Gary Dobson and David Norris murderers and the death of Stephen Lawrence murder.

    Maybe some peace processors will come on and tell us that such a term is unehlpful about that case. Or if not explain how Mr. Lawrence’s case was murder but the murders here in Northern Ireland are somehow not murder.

    We should call murder what it is and call terrorists what they are.

  • Decimus


    The only people to whom the use of the term ‘terrorist’ and ‘murder’ are unhelpful to are the terrorists and murderers. They are in deep denial about what they are.

  • Turgon, I think the theme is worthy of a separate thread so I’ll leave further comment as to when or if it appears.

  • Skinner


    Some nationalist posters may be surprised to hear you say that the dead on Bloody Sunday were murdered. Would you also call for the soldiers responsible to be tried?

  • galloglaigh


    Was soldier ‘F’ a terrorist?


    Were the old UVF terrorists?

  • carl marks

    Decimus (profile) says:
    6 January 2012 at 11:49 am
    The only people to whom the use of the term ‘terrorist’ and ‘murder’ are unhelpful to are the terrorists and murderers. They are in deep denial about what they are.”
    Indeed we see this in a regular basis in both the nationalist camp (we was freedom fighters) and the unionist camp (we done nothing it was all their fault)
    galloglaigh (profile) says:
    6 January 2012 at 3:58 pm
    Was soldier ‘F’ a terrorist?”
    To be fair to Turgon he has stated in the past that soldier F and his ilk were guilty of murder, to my knowledge he has not used the word terrorist but logic would dictate that the cowardly use of force against unarmed and innocent people is indeed terrorism.

  • Turgon

    carl marks,
    Thanks for that. I was away from the computer working and doing other unimportant stuff.

    The question re Soldier F is was he a terrorist and is he a murderer. Was a terrorist is because if a terrorist stops terrorising people I can accept they are an ex-terrorist. Murderer is a continuous variable: once one is a murderer one remains that till death.

    To answer both questions: I am always very reitcient because of the laws of libel and Soldier F has been convicted of nothing; therefore he is legally innocent. Moving on however, to moral answers: To the question was he a terrorist: answer did he terrorise people? my answer would be yes.

    Did he murder people: no in the sense that he has not been convicted of anything that I know of. However, were the people killed on Bloody Sunday murdered: answer yes. I think what I am saying avoids any chance of litigation but is crystal clear. Furthermore when the Bloody Sunday report came out I for one made it clear that I though prosecutions should result: I have not changed that opinion.

    Again I come back to the fact that most victims want their day in court: not all but most. Furthermore in the week when the murderers of Stephen Lawrence have been rightly and justly convicted as the murderers they most assuredly are we should remember that 88 people died in Northern Ireland the year Stephen Lawrence was murdered. Many of them were murdered and their murderers need brought to justice just as much as Mr. Lawrence’s murderers do. That would be helpful because one of the basises of a democratic society is justice and equality before the law. Yesterday I pointed out the unacceptability of someone effectively getting away with speeding. Murder is far more important and just because it occurred in 1993 (or before) does not mean people should get away with it. Anyone who thinks calling murder, murder or murderers, murderers or terrorists, terrorists should take a long hard look at their moral compass. They should also look into the faces of the victims’ relatives and explain how their loved one’s death does not matter enough even to call the murderer a murderer let alone make the murderer amenable to justice.

  • Turgon

    Typo there,
    Anyone who thinks calling murder, murder or murderers, murderers or terrorists, terrorists is wrong or “unhelpful” should take a long hard look at their moral compass.

  • Turgon

    I did not mention this before as I did not have access to the links in Nicholas Whyte’s comment. I thought the idea on slugger was play the ball not the man: Mick has been very keen on promoting that recently. Whyte seems to have mentioned “reservations” about Mr. Murray and linked to them rather than attacking Mr. Murray’s comments. From other commentors that might be called man playing.

  • Turgon is as ever right.
    We are being offered Truth OR Reconciliation.
    It is not Truth AND Reconciliation.
    There is no proviso for Admission of Guilt…….surely the basic step before Reconciliation is possible
    Nor is there any proviso for Punishment.

    Nobody who has got off the hook (Republican, Loyalist or State) is going to jump back on the hook.
    Yet we are offered this spurious notion that we are all guilty……….and we need to be reconciled which is a fig leaf for the really guilty and their apologists. And downright insulting.

  • wild turkey


    your response to Nevin @ 11:41. once again sir, you have hit the nail on the head. below is from the OED definition of murder. Turgon and Nevin, humble and heartfelt wishes to both of you guys, and families, for a decent 2012….. anyway back to the OED

    the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another:

    verb [with object]
    kill (someone) unlawfully and with premeditation:

  • Turgon,

    I posted that first link in haste; it was intended to illuminate the points made by GG in the original post about Murray’s affiliation with the Henry Jackson Society and his views in Islam, and I should have made that clear. Apologies for confusing you.

  • Turgon

    You made no attempt to address the issues raised by mr. murray. it was man playing. It was: do not listen to this person because his views are x y and z.

    If you were in haste you should have waited until you had time to answer the points. In reality you are now trying to explain away your man playing: that is called dishonesty. I am not remotely confused. The first post was man playing: the latest lying.

  • “I was interested to read Marko Attila Hoare’s reservations about Murray.” .. Nicholas Whyte

    “It was: do not listen to this person because his views are x y and z.” .. Turgon

    I don’t get the connection …

  • “hit the nail on the head”

    Wild Turkey, he who uses a sledge hammer most likely also hits the nails on the thumb and fingers too; the subtlety of my intervention has been, er, missed.

  • Just to expand or clarify, when I wrote: I have my own doubts about how helpful it is to persist in this type of labelling or name-calling in public debate.

    My main point is that when these terms are used in public debate, people tend to get distracted by labelling people (the comments on this post neatly illustrate this to a degree, actually), and other issues fall by the wayside as we argue about what certain people should be called.

    This is unhelpful to the extent that it prevents substantial discussion about other issues in the public sphere.

  • Turgon

    Such terms are sort of useful, however, when one is discussing Bloody Sunday and the Saville enquiry which was I believe the subject or Mr. Murray’s book. Hence, his use of the terms murderer and terrorist seem entirely apposite and indeed far from “unhelpful”.

  • Gladys Ganiel,
    I have reservations about “public debate”. There is no pressing need for a debate. There are around 600,000 fols allegedly affected and if we all joined in a public debate it would chaotic and very noisey.
    Necessarily a public debate would mean people speaking for…or purporting to speak for others.
    Which is really just an exercise in public debate…potentially divisive ….for its own sake.

    If any discussion is indeed possible, it would not be helpful for “Truth” if there are limits put on the vocabulary that is acceptable.
    Understandably terrorists, ex-terrorists and their apologists have a problem with being so described…..and it is not “helpful” to them.
    But I dont see why restrictions should be put on the rest of us who have no problem with using the word “terrorist”. Certainly when I use the word, I mean it in a neutral way….a matter of fact…….
    Of course on a personal level I dont “need” Reconciliation.

    I dont actually think the Communities (plural) really need it either. Most of us are reconciled and ……….relieved. But sincerely Id suggest that limiting vocabulary does not aid the “Truth” aspect (I am inclined to call a spade a spade…..although sometimes I go further and call a spade a shovel). To inhibit use of the word “terrorist” is the opposite of “Truth” and merely alienates people like me from the Process.

    Of course, its legitimate to say that the Process is not intended for the likes of me….that its about “players” and “victims”…….but while I hold the view (and its legitimate to challenge my view) that Reconciliation and Truth are not possible (without Repentance, Punishment, Forgiveness)…..I honestly cant see any way in which Reconciliation can be built on a Half Truth (inhibiting use of the word “terrorist”.).

    By the way…..and off topic (but I have no other forum)……may I wish you all the best for your big day next week. I hope the 26 miles is all downhill. 🙂

  • strange typo……….”600,000 fols” was supposed to read “600,000 of us”

  • This exchange tends to reinforce my suspicion that the aggressive use of accurate terms such as terrorist and murderer in public discourse is indeed counter-productive; it could also lead to a nasty blow to the private parts.

    Murray’s assertion that folks on a NICRA parade were ‘marching for justice’ indicates a certain naivity about NICRA’s roots and how some folks interpreted the Martin Luther King slogan:

    The civil rights movement’s strategy of non-violence was greatly influenced by Martin Luther King’s philosophy – Don’t retaliate, let the world see who the real aggressor is – that was our fundamental message to our fellow marchers when we were attacked by baton-wielding police. … Hume Personal Views

    Now the RUC in Derry in 1968 and the Guards in Dublin two years earlier could certainly swing the baton but they could also be provoked into action by verbal and other abuse. In a highly charged atmosphere a car back-firing or someone firing a shot IMO could easily stampede police or soldiers into lethal shooting.