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Re-writing the Official Narrative of Bloody Sunday: The Role of Photographs

Le rôle des photographies dans la réécriture du récit officiel de Bloody Sunday
Charlotte Barcat


Le 15 juin 2010, l’enquête sur Bloody Sunday, aussi connue sous le nom d’enquête Saville, a publié son rapport sur les événements du 30 janvier 1972. Trente-huit ans s’étaient écoulés depuis la première enquête publique sur Bloody Sunday, menée par Lord Widgery, et dont le rapport avait été considéré par beaucoup comme une mascarade destinée à « blanchir » les soldats. Cet article propose d’examiner le rôle joué par les photographies dans la réécriture de la version officielle de Bloody Sunday, à la fois dans la déconstruction du rapport Widgery, et dans la reconstruction de la nouvelle version officielle par Lord Saville. En effet, tant que la version des faits exposée dans le rapport Widgery restait la version officielle, les photographies représentaient un puissant moyen de subversion : leur pouvoir émotionnel pouvait se révéler très efficace pour provoquer une prise de conscience en choquant l’opinion publique. Elles furent donc utilisées dans plusieurs livres qui plaidaient en faveur d’une nouvelle enquête. Après la mise en place de l’enquête Saville, elles furent aussi d’un grand secours aux juges du tribunal d’enquête lorsqu’ils durent s’atteler à reconstruire la séquence des événements minute par minute. On peut considérer que l’enquête Saville, en réintégrant ces photographies dans son rapport, a aussi donné une reconnaissance officielle à ces « fragments de vérité », qui avaient été pour la plupart peu exploités ou ignorés par la première enquête.

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  • 1 Martin McGuinness, “It Was a Calculated Act of Revenge Intended To Teach the People of Derry (...)

1On Sunday 30th January 1972, in the city of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, thirteen civilians were shot dead and fifteen injured during a civil rights march held in protest against the policy of internment without trial. The Bogside area of the city, where the killings took place, was then part of a “no-go area” known as “Free Derry”: the civilian population had erected barricades and were successfully keeping the security forces out. The exact circumstances in which the victims of “Bloody Sunday” were shot have been a matter of controversy ever since. Conflicting narratives have co-existed from the beginning: did the soldiers open fire on a peaceful march, or were they attacked first? Were any of the victims members of paramilitary organisations, or were they all unarmed civilians? Were the killings the result of an overreaction by soldiers who were traumatised by the level of violence they had to deal with every day? Or was there a deliberate plan on the part of the British government to kill civilians indiscriminately, to re-assert their authority on the no-go area and, as Martin McGuinness put it, to “teach the people of Derry a lesson”?1

2A public inquiry was immediately set up by the British government and led by Lord Widgery, but instead of bringing appeasement, its report outraged the victims’ families. It was perceived as a “whitewash”, a travesty intended to exonerate the army and put most of the blame on the marchers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of the victims’ relatives together with a number of activists began to get organised, and in 1992 they created the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign to push for a new inquiry. In 1998, with the arrival of Tony Blair in Downing Street, a new inquiry was finally granted. It was to be led by Lord Mark Saville of Newdigate, and thus became known as the Saville Inquiry. Unlike the Widgery Inquiry, which had lasted only 3 months and had produced a report that was 100 pages long, the Saville Inquiry lasted 12 years and produced a 10-volume, 5,000-page report which was published on 15th June 2010.

  • 2 The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mark Saville of Newdigate (Chairman), The Hon. William Hoyt, The Hon. J (...)

3This very long process from the Widgery Inquiry to the Saville Report can be seen as an exercise of deconstruction and reconstruction: to make the case for a new inquiry, the campaigners first had to deconstruct the official version of the events, in order to discredit the Widgery Inquiry and its report. Then, with the setting up of the Saville Inquiry, an enormous task of reconstruction began: Saville had to re-structure and re-write the narrative of Bloody Sunday in the light of the new material available, taking into account the criticism addressed to the Widgery report. The goal was officially to get to “the truth” – which was arguably an impossible task – but also implicitly to make the new narrative convincing and acceptable to most2. As we will see, photographs have played an important part in both phases: they were first used as a means to undermine the official version set out in the Widgery Report, and then as a tool to reconstruct the new version during the Saville Inquiry.

The Subversive Power of Photographs

  • 3 Oral evidence given by Fulvio Grimaldi to the Saville Inquiry, “Bloody Sunday Inqui (...)
  • 4 Transcript of Fulvio Grimaldi’s hearing at the Widgery Inquiry in “M_0034” (evidence relate (...)

4The presence of a great number of photographers on Bloody Sunday was embarrassing for the British government. Among the most famous pictures of that day were those taken by two freelance photographers, Gilles Peress and Fulvio Grimaldi. Both gave oral evidence to the Widgery Inquiry. Gilles Peress pointed out that while he was giving evidence, he was not offered the services of an interpreter, although he was French and had a limited command of the English language at the time. He thought that this had not had any substantial impact on the content of his testimony, but had nevertheless made it a rather stressful experience. As for Grimaldi, his hearing at the Widgery Tribunal was highly confrontational. During the Saville Inquiry, Grimaldi said: “I had to insist several times through newspapers to be questioned by the Widgery Tribunal. They were very reluctant to hear me [...].”3 The transcript of the hearing shows that Grimaldi was questioned in a very aggressive way and was even accused of being a friend of the IRA. One of the counsel to the inquiry suggested his evidence was unreliable because of his “violent” political views. The discussions were heated, and Grimaldi angrily concluded before withdrawing: “You see my association with the people of Derry does not go very much closer than the association of Mr. Widgery with the Army of Her Majesty.” Grimaldi’s testimony was all the more embarrassing for the British as he stated he believed he had been deliberately fired at on several occasions, in spite of having clearly indicated that he was a photographer4.

  • 5 F. Grimaldi and S. North, op. cit., 11.

5This tense relationship between photographers and members of the inquiry shows the awareness not only that embarrassing truths that might be revealed by photographs, but also of their potential propaganda value. It was especially important for Widgery to try to destroy Fulvio Grimaldi’s credibility, as he was known for his disapproval of British presence in Northern Ireland, and was one of the few who had published his own account of Bloody Sunday in a pamphlet called Blood in the Street, as early as March 1972. His account, which he had co-written with his partner Susan North, and in which many of his photographs were reproduced, stated in its foreword: “It will be said that this book about the State-butchery in Derry is one-sided and partial. That it is emotional. We, who have written it, and the people about whom it is and the people for whom it is, don’t mind and don’t care.” Grimaldi thus fully embraced the power of photographs to assert subjective, emotional truths, and to undermine what he saw as a falsely objective official version5.

  • 6 Murray Sayle, “Bloody Sunday Report,” London Review of Books, vol. 24, n°13, 11 Jul (...)
  • 7 Written evidence given by John Barry, “M_0003”, Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website, 2-3. <http://webarch (...)

6Another reason why photographers represented a threat to the British government version was that their pictures could be used by journalists in articles that questioned the official version of Bloody Sunday. The best example was probably that of the Sunday Times’ “Insight” Team. In the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, two reporters of the Sunday Times wanted to publish a controversial article accusing the British army of premeditated murder6. However, according to the evidence given by former Sunday Times editor John Barry to the Saville Inquiry, the editorial team of the newspaper decided against it for two main reasons7. Firstly, they felt that the newspaper, which had already often been accused of being too sympathetic to the IRA, would have needed extremely solid evidence to back such strong accusations against the British army – or their article would have been dismissed as partisan. Secondly, the establishment of a public inquiry by the government led to fears that an attempt to pre-empt Widgery’s findings by publishing an account of the events could be seen as contempt of court.

  • 8 House of Commons Debates, Hansard 1803-2005, UK Parliament, vol. 830, c. 36, 31 Jan (...)
  • 9 House of Commons Debates, Hansard 1803-2005, UK Parliament, vol. 830, c. 244, 272, 281, 1 F (...)

7It must be noted that this did not prevent certain members of the government from expressing their own version of what had happened: in the House of Commons and using parliamentary privilege, both Home Secretary Reginald Maudling and Minister of State for Defence Lord Balniel exposed a version of events that tended to blame the victims and exonerate the army, much to the aggravation of MP Bernadette Devlin, who had been present on Bloody Sunday and was refused the right to give her own account on the grounds that an inquiry had already been set up8. The debates also showed that there was considerable confusion over the issue of “contempt of court” in the case of public inquiries. Edward Heath claimed that the law restricted comments on the issue under investigation as soon as the tribunal was set up, while Labour MP Reginald Paget disagreed that such a law applied to public inquiries9. Bernadette Devlin was eventually allowed to speak, but the confusion remained, and the threat of legal action seems to have been taken very seriously by the Sunday Times editorial team.

8Widgery thus served, deliberately or not, as a way to suppress unofficial versions. The decision of the Sunday Times was to publish some of the photographs taken by Gilles Peress instead in their edition of 6 February 1972. As photographs are often seen as more objective than words, they do not in themselves constitute a “version” of the events and, it is arguably more difficult to sue a newspaper for publishing photographs, which represent, after all, snapshots of real events, than to sue them for an article. Yet, regarding the impact on the public, photographs can be as powerful, or even more powerful, than words. The images chosen by the Sunday Times showed one of the victims, Patrick Doherty, as he was crawling to get to safety, visibly unarmed, and the same man a few moments later lying on the ground after being shot. The emotional impact of these images could be used to shock the public into awareness, and to denounce the killing of innocent civilians, the same way an article would have. For the Sunday Times reporters, therefore, photographs were a way to bypass potential legal threats from the British government and to challenge the official version of Bloody Sunday.

  • 10 Peter Pringle, “Exorcising Widgery,” in Trisha Ziff (ed.), Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 197 (...)

9While the Widgery Inquiry was under way, the Sunday Times “Insight” Team carried on with their work, collecting around 500 photographs as well as testimonies from eyewitnesses. Immediately after the release of the Widgery report, which effectively freed them from the threat of being sued for contempt of court, they published their own account of Bloody Sunday. It was different from Widgery’s and concluded that there had been a deliberate decision to put civilians at risk.10

10Finally, photographs also played a part in the various publications that helped set the justice campaign in motion. In the 1990s, several influential books were published, in particular Bloody Sunday in Derry: What Really Happened (1992) by Eamonn McCann, and Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth (1997) by Don Mullan. These books challenged the official version of the truth, and consisted mainly of eyewitness accounts and photographs. Together with the discovery of various documents that had been unavailable to, or disregarded by, the Widgery Inquiry, and in particular the unearthing of a memo in which Edward Heath reminded Lord Widgery that his investigation was to be seen as part of a “propaganda war” in Northern Ireland, these books helped strengthen the case put forward by the campaigners who were demanding a second inquiry. Even after the Saville Inquiry was set up, books continued to be published, notably, in 1998, filmmaker Trisha Ziff’s Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 1972, which contained many photographs and personal accounts of Bloody Sunday. Ziff subsequently curated an exhibition by the same name in the United States, which featured a great number of photographs of Bloody Sunday by eighteen different photographers.

The Use of Photographs by the Saville Inquiry

11The hearings of the Saville Inquiry took place mainly between 2000 and 2005, which means that roughly thirty years had passed between Bloody Sunday and the taking of oral evidence from witnesses. Saville had a considerable amount of documentary evidence at his disposal, but a huge part of his work rested on eyewitness accounts, and therefore on human memory – over 900 people were called to give oral evidence11. Unsurprisingly, after all this time individual memories often proved to be a very unreliable source: an individual’s memory is not a document, it is alive, evolves and can be influenced or distorted over time. In the case of an event like Bloody Sunday, which was witnessed by a great number of people, individual memories are often heavily influenced by collective memory. The Saville Inquiry often found that some people had come to believe over time that they had seen something with their own eyes, whereas they had only been told the story by another witness. A photograph, by contrast, may be damaged over the years, or taken out of context, but what is represented on it will always remain the same – at least as long as it is an original. In spite of the danger of considering photographs as “the truth”, they remain an extremely useful tool for an investigation.

12One of the functions of photographs was to help to reconstruct the landscape of the Bogside as it was on Bloody Sunday. Indeed, much had changed since 1972, and photographs taken at the time were often used to help witnesses remember the layout of a particular area, or to clarify the location of a street, of a building, of a shop, or of other useful landmarks. Photographs and maps were often projected on a screen during the hearings, as an aid to the visual memory of witnesses.

13Occasionally, photographs could also prove useful to establish the chronology of events. This task was one of the most difficult: bullets had been fired and people killed or wounded in several areas, over a relatively short time – roughly 20 minutes. This meant that many witnesses had only seen part of what had happened, and because of the panic and confusion, they may not have had a clear perception of time. Photographs were sometimes helpful, especially when they featured a clock indicating the time at which they had been taken. One photograph in particular shows that the soldiers had entered the Bogside by 4.10pm, as can be seen from the Guildhall clock12.

  • 13 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.148-55.161. Photographs by Gilles Peress: <http://webarchive. (...)
  • 14 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.207.

14Even when there was no indication of time, the photographers were sometimes able to supply the Inquiry with their contact sheets, which showed the photographs in chronological sequence. They also made it possible to retrace the whereabouts of a particular person throughout the afternoon, as for example in the case of Michael Bridge, who was photographed several times throughout the day by various civilian photographers13. He was then photographed by Fulvio Grimaldi, after being shot in the leg (Fig.1).14

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

© Fulvio Grimaldi

15In these cases photographic evidence was paramount, but there were others where its usefulness was more limited. It could serve as an aid to visual memory and occasionally for cross-examination, allowing the Tribunal to assess the reliability of a witness’s memory, for instance, about which clothes a particular person was wearing. However, photographs were often of little use on their own, for, to be truly helpful, it was necessary for the photographer to be identified especially if he was also able to provide contact sheets and to give his recollection of the conditions in which the pictures had been taken. In order to trace a person’s whereabouts, it was also necessary to find witnesses who could identify themselves or others in photographs.

  • 15 Lord Saville of Newdigate, Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.2-58. (...)
  • 16 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.15.
  • 17 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.86-58.108.

16Moreover, different people could have very different interpretations of the same photograph, especially when the visual evidence was not conclusive, which ultimately required Saville to evaluate the evidence (photographic or other) on the “balance of probability.” Controversy arose, for example, around two photographs that were said by some to show people handling guns. In both of them, however, it is very difficult to tell with certainty if the object shown really is a firearm. The most famous of them shows a man who became known as “Fr Daly’s gunman”, because it was believed that he was the gunman described in the testimony of Catholic priest Edward Daly. Because this hypothesis seemed consistent with a number of other testimonies from civilians, in terms of the location of the gunman and of his appearance, Saville concluded that the man shown in the photograph probably was an Official IRA member known to the Inquiry as “OIRA 4.”15 His opinion was also that the photograph (Fig. 2)16 had most likely been taken by Fulvio Grimaldi, although the photographer denied it and said he was not aware of having taken a picture showing a gunman.17

Fig. 2a (author unknown)

Fig. 2a (author unknown)

Fig. 2b (detail from 2a)

Fig. 2b (detail from 2a)

17The second example concerned the suggestion, by representatives of the soldiers, that one picture showed a crouching man removing a gun from the body of seventeen-year-old victim Jackie Duddy18. This of course corroborated their theory that the reason why no firearm had been recovered on any of the victims was that other civilians had removed them. Saville, however, was not convinced by this explanation nor by the photograph, especially because he thought it “unlikely that anyone would be handling a firearm in full view of soldiers only a few yards away.”19

18In both cases, therefore, it can be said that the presence or absence of corroborating evidence played a more important part in reaching conclusions than what could be seen in the photographs.

19Another reason why photographs can be of limited help is that they do not show what happened immediately before, after, or in between snapshots: the violence of a blow, for example, cannot be inferred easily from a sequence of still images. Yet, a sequence of photographs, taken in very quick succession, were interpreted by some as evidence of the use of excessive violence by the soldiers20. Indeed, many arrests were made on Bloody Sunday, and several of those arrested mentioned ill-treatment and excessive violence. However, Lord Saville was not convinced by the visual evidence and concluded: “[…] although it was submitted that the photographs show unjustified violent assaults by soldiers, particularly the soldier shown on the left, we are not persuaded that they do so.” Indeed, even Colman Doyle who had taken the photographs in question said he was unsure about what they showed: for instance, he could not tell whether they showed a running man being knocked out by a soldier, or whether the running man had simply tripped and fallen, forcing the soldier to jump over him.

  • 21 Bill Rolston, Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest For Truth, Belfast: Beyond (...)
  • 22 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IX, chap. 175, 175.1.

20Evidence that certain photographs were missing also gave rise to controversy and suspicion. The most publicised case was that of the missing army photographs: ten military photographers had been present on Bloody Sunday, yet, none of their photographs could be found21. They had apparently been destroyed by the Ministry of Defence, probably because – according to the Ministry – they were of no interest, and because it was believed that there would be no further use for them after the Widgery Inquiry. Not everyone accepted this explanation, and some people accused the Ministry of Defence of having destroyed them because what they showed was detrimental to the army’s case. Saville’s opinion on that question was that there is no evidence of the pictures having been destroyed on purpose, and that, since it was established that most army photographers had stayed behind the barricades without entering the Bogside – and therefore had not been in the killing zone – it was possible that they truly showed nothing of importance22.

  • 23 Ibid., vol. IX, chap. 175, 175.2-175.52.

21On the other hand, representatives of the soldiers formulated accusations of dissimulation against certain civilian photographers. They claimed that some of the missing pictures had been hidden by the photographers themselves, or forcibly taken from the latter by the IRA, and that some photographs had been scratched on purpose. In the same way that he had dismissed allegations against the Ministry of Defence, Saville rejected the soldiers’ allegations that there had been a deliberate intention on the part of civilian photographers to destroy evidence of paramilitary activity as “no more than speculation.”23

22Finally, photographs have sometimes been the focus of arguments regarding the possible manipulation of evidence. Especially controversial was the series of photos taken by an RUC photographer of seventeen-year-old victim Gerald Donaghey with nail bombs in his pockets. After being shot, Donaghey was taken to a house in the Bogside, and from there, two men put him in a car to take him to hospital. The car was stopped at an army checkpoint, and the two men accompanying Donaghey were arrested. A soldier then drove the vehicle to a military aid post, but by the time he arrived there, Gerald Donaghey was already deceased. The RUC then claimed that they had found four nail bombs in his pockets, and produced photographs of his body lying at the back of the car, on which nail bombs could be seen. The civilians who gave evidence, some of whom had tended Donaghey, all denied having seen any nail bombs, and said they could not have failed to notice their presence had they been in his pockets.

  • 24 Ibid., vol. VII, chap. 145, 145.25.

23Many believed that the bombs were planted by the security forces after Donaghey’s death, in an attempt to justify at least one of the casualties of Bloody Sunday, and that the photographs had therefore been staged. Saville reached no definite verdict on this case. On the one hand, the civilian witnesses were adamant that Donaghey’s pockets had been empty at the time when he was brought to a local man’s house and examined by a doctor, and Saville was inclined to believe them. On the other hand, he felt it would have been impossible for the security forces to plant the bombs on Donaghey’s body, since this would have involved some advance planning, and the soldiers at the checkpoint could not have known that a mortally wounded man would be brought to them in a car at that particular time. Therefore, although he differed from Widgery by concluding that Donaghey had been shot while running away, that he was posing no threat at that moment, and that his shooting had been entirely unjustified, his final conclusion on the issue of the nail bombs was that “Gerald Donaghey was probably in possession of the nail bombs when he was shot.”24 This sentence was a huge disappointment for the families as they had hoped to see Donaghey’s reputation entirely cleared.

Giving Official Recognition to Subjective Experiences

24It has thus been shown that photographs are often unable to offer conclusive proof, since they may leave much room for interpretation, and can even be suspected of being fabricated. However, including photographs in the Saville Inquiry report went some way to serving another, implicit, purpose: to offer people official recognition of their subjective experiences of Bloody Sunday.

  • 25 Quoted in T. Ziff (ed.), op. cit., 80, (original emphasis).
  • 26 Quoted in Maureen E. Mulvihill, “The Camera Does Not Lie: Revisiting Bloody Sunday,” New Hi (...)

25In the “unofficial” memory of Bloody Sunday, the emphasis has often been placed on the truthfulness and authenticity of photographs and testimonies – two types of representations of the past that are perceived as what we could call “raw fragments of truth.” The books published in the 1990s to criticise the Widgery Report have in common the extensive use of interviews, personal accounts, as well as pictures. They also have in common a claim to the disclosure of a hidden truth – hence the titles Hidden Truths, Bloody Sunday in Derry: What Really Happened, Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth. The media or the reports written by representatives of the state inspire mistrust, whereas “ordinary people”, eyewitnesses and photographers – especially freelance photographers – are seen as the guardians of an authentic truth, one that is not distorted or manipulated. Gilles Peress, was quoted by Trisha Ziff as saying: “For me it has always been about the truth and what is hidden from us. […] One of the reasons I do what I do is because I don’t trust the media. I have never trusted the media. [...] What I need is to have a connection with a reality, and the space and time to experience it in a succession of subjective ways, and to then try to reconstruct it as a possible truth.”25 Trisha Ziff herself said about the Hidden Truths exhibition: “The stunned and panicked faces of common citizens are exquisite for the truths they speak. And the camera eye caught it all […] books and newspaper accounts, even testimonials, were not incriminating enough: people needed to see Bloody Sunday. All of it. Here it is. Truths no longer hidden.”26

26The photograph shown below, taken by Fulvio Grimaldi, is probably the most famous one taken on Bloody Sunday. It shows Catholic priest Fr Edward Daly trying to lead a group of people carrying the body of victim Jackie Duddy across a car park, and waving a white handkerchief to ask the soldiers to stop firing. The strong symbolic power of this photograph is enhanced by the white handkerchief, a symbol of peace and innocence, associated with a priest who can be seen as a personification of the non-violent Catholic community. It also has a strong emotional impact because it shows both an image of solidarity within the community, and of civilians showing enormous courage by risking their lives to save a young man.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

© Fulvio Grimaldi

27For all these reasons, this photograph became iconic and was chosen to feature on the Bloody Sunday mural painted by the Bogside Artists in Derry/Londonderry. The mural is, however, not a simple reproduction of the photograph but a composition, which underscores once again the potential of images to send a political message. Several elements have been changed: the group of civilians is taken out of the immediate context which is replaced by a cloud of smoke, and put back in the wider context of the civil rights march – the crowd of marchers is pictured in the background. The first civilian on the left of the photograph has been replaced with a soldier, who is faceless – because of the gas mask he is wearing – and seems insensitive to what is happening in front of him. This soldier is also shown trampling on a bloodstained Civil Rights banner – which, beyond its symbolic importance, is also a reference to a real banner that was used to cover the bodies of some of the victims and has been recently retrieved and put on display in the Museum of Free Derry.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Photograph: © Charlotte Barcat. Mural: © The Bogside Artists

  • 27 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 117.3. Two series of photographs by Gil (...)

28Equally important for their emotional resonance are the photographs of Patrick Doherty, which were included among those published by the Sunday Times after Bloody Sunday. They are particularly powerful because they are in a sequence – almost like a film – and show a helpless man, crawling, who is then shot to death. As in the previous photograph, the pathos of the scene is reinforced by the image of courage and solidarity embodied by Patrick Walsh, another man who can be seen trying to help the dying Patrick Doherty at the risk of his own life27.

  • 28 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.68.

29The “unofficial” memory of Bloody Sunday often stressed the emotional impact, the personal, subjective experience of the event, and could rely of course on the power of the photographs shown above and of many other pictures. Admittedly, it was outside the brief of the Bloody Sunday Tribunal’s report to refer to the symbolic or emotional dimension of these photographs, since the official objective of the Inquiry was to focus on the facts and to produce an objective narrative of what happened. Even the Fr Daly photograph, the most iconic of all, is described only in the following dry terms: “Fulvio Grimaldi’s photograph shows the group led by Fr Daly making their way across the car park,” – which shows that a picture can be very rich in emotional and symbolic content but relatively poor in terms of factual information28.

30However, it would probably be wrong to assume that the Saville Report was only significant regarding factual truth, as opposed to what could be called “emotional truth.” It could be argued that one of the implicit objectives was also to give official recognition to the traumatic experience of those who had lived through Bloody Sunday – which the Widgery Inquiry had failed to do. This was especially true regarding the taking of written and oral evidence from a huge number of people who had not been heard during the Widgery inquiry, but it was also true of photographs. Widgery had used photographs as evidence, but they had not been printed in his report, and many had been left out or had not been retrieved by the inquiry. Saville, by contrast, included a great number of them, and it could be argued that this alone was already very meaningful: re-integrating these photographs, which had long been used as symbols of oppression and as damning evidence in the accusations of injustice against the British government, in an official process and in the document which came out of it was a way of producing an impression of inclusiveness, and of alleviating the feeling that many truths had been deliberately kept out of the state version of the events.

31In the long process of re-writing the official version of Bloody Sunday, photographs have played different roles. As long as the official version remained that of the Widgery Report, they were essential in keeping the “unofficial” memory of Bloody Sunday alive thanks to their emotional and symbolic dimension. They could be seen as fragments of an authentic truth left untold, like as many silent indictments of the British army’s conduct, and made a major contribution to the successful campaign to destroy the credibility of the Widgery Report and to compel the British government to acknowledge that it was simply not acceptable to let this faulty document remain the official version of Bloody Sunday. Photographs were then integrated into the new inquiry’s efforts to reconstruct the truth, together with the numerous testimonies by thousands of eyewitnesses, which perhaps begs the question: what was really expected from Saville? Was it only the facts or the acknowledgement that a great wrong had been done? The Bloody Sunday campaigners have always said that they already knew what had happened, and yet, they were adamant that a new inquiry was absolutely necessary. To some degree, the role of a public inquiry like this one is akin to the role of a truth commission, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission: although it is sometimes seen as a painful exercise that forces people to re-open old sores, it also provides an outlet for catharsis by allowing people to tell their stories, and more importantly, to get some degree of official recognition for their personal experiences of a traumatic event. One of the functions of the Saville Inquiry was to re-integrate all the “fragments of truth” – oral evidence, documents and photographs – in order to bridge the gap between the official and the unofficial memory of Bloody Sunday, and to bring them together to form a new, more inclusive official version. It is too soon to say whether he succeeded: without the benefit of hindsight, it is still a matter of debate between those who believe the declaration of innocence for all victims was what really mattered and those who thought that the Report failed by shying away from examining the wider issues around Bloody Sunday.

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Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website. <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.>.

DAWSON Graham, Making Peace With the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Troubles, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007.

GRIMALDI Fulvio and Susan NORTH, Blood in the Street, Derry/Londonderry: Guildhall Press, 1998 [1972].

Hansard 1803-2005, UK Parliament, House of Commons Debates, vol. 830, 1972. <>.

McGUINNESS Martin, “It Was a Calculated Act of Revenge Intended To Teach the People of Derry a Lesson,” The Guardian, 5 November 2003. <>.

MULVIHILL Maureen E., “The Camera Does Not Lie: Revisiting Bloody Sunday,” New Hibernia Review, vol. 6, n° 4, 2002.

ROLSTON Bill, Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest For Truth, Belfast: Beyond The Pale, 2000.

THE RT. HON. THE LORD MARK SAVILLE OF NEWDIGATE (Chairman), THE HON. WILLIAM HOYT, THE HON. JOHN TOOHEY, “Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry”, Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website in National Archives, UK Government. <>.

SAYLE Murray, “Bloody Sunday Report”, London Review of Books, vol. 24, n°13, 11 July 2002, 21-28. <>.

ZIFF Trisha (ed.), Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 1972, Santa Monica: Smart Art Press, 1998.

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1 Martin McGuinness, “It Was a Calculated Act of Revenge Intended To Teach the People of Derry a Lesson,” The Guardian, 5 November 2003. <>, accessed 12 September 2011.

2 The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mark Saville of Newdigate (Chairman), The Hon. William Hoyt, The Hon. John Toohey, “Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry,” Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website in National Archives, UK Government, vol. X, A.2.1. <>, accessed 15 September 2011.

3 Oral evidence given by Fulvio Grimaldi to the Saville Inquiry, “Bloody Sunday Inquiry Transcript — Day 131,” Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website, 26 June 2001, 94. <>, accessed 15 September 2011.

4 Transcript of Fulvio Grimaldi’s hearing at the Widgery Inquiry in “M_0034” (evidence related to Fulvio Grimaldi), Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website, 49-52. < >, accessed 13 September 2011; see also Fulvio Grimaldi and Susan North, Blood in the Street, Derry/Londonderry: Guildhall Press, 1998 [1972], 45-7.

5 F. Grimaldi and S. North, op. cit., 11.

6 Murray Sayle, “Bloody Sunday Report,” London Review of Books, vol. 24, n°13, 11 July 2002, 21-28. <>, accessed 7 February 2014.

7 Written evidence given by John Barry, “M_0003”, Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website, 2-3. <>, accessed 7 February 2014.

8 House of Commons Debates, Hansard 1803-2005, UK Parliament, vol. 830, c. 36, 31 January 1972; c. 270-80, 1 February 1972, <>, accessed 15 September 2011; Graham Dawson, Making Peace With the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Troubles, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007, 102.

9 House of Commons Debates, Hansard 1803-2005, UK Parliament, vol. 830, c. 244, 272, 281, 1 February 1972, <>, accessed 15 September 2011.

10 Peter Pringle, “Exorcising Widgery,” in Trisha Ziff (ed.), Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 1972, Santa Monica: Smart Art Press, 1998, 52-70.

11 “Questions and Answers,” Bloody Sunday Inquiry Website. <>, accessed 27 August 2011.

12 Lord Saville of Newdigate,

13 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.148-55.161. Photographs by Gilles Peress: <>, <>, <>, photographs by Sam Gillespie: <>, <>.

14 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.207.

15 Lord Saville of Newdigate, Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.2-58.83.

16 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.15.

17 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.86-58.108.

18 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.162-3. Photograph by Gilles Peress: <>.

19 Ibid., vol. IV, chap. 58, 58.164.

20 Ibid., vol.III, chap. 37, 37.4. Series of photographs by Colman Doyle: <>, <>, <>.

21 Bill Rolston, Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest For Truth, Belfast: Beyond The Pale, 2000, 9.

22 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IX, chap. 175, 175.1.

23 Ibid., vol. IX, chap. 175, 175.2-175.52.

24 Ibid., vol. VII, chap. 145, 145.25.

25 Quoted in T. Ziff (ed.), op. cit., 80, (original emphasis).

26 Quoted in Maureen E. Mulvihill, “The Camera Does Not Lie: Revisiting Bloody Sunday,” New Hibernia Review, vol. 6, n° 4, 2002: 151-4.

27 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 117.3. Two series of photographs by Gilles Peress: <>, <>), chap. 118.171. Photograph by Gilles Peress: <>.

28 Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, vol. IV, chap. 55, 55.68.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Crédits © Fulvio Grimaldi
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Titre Fig. 2a (author unknown)
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Titre Fig. 2b (detail from 2a)
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Titre Fig. 3
Crédits © Fulvio Grimaldi
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Titre Fig. 4
Crédits Photograph: © Charlotte Barcat. Mural: © The Bogside Artists
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Charlotte Barcat, « Re-writing the Official Narrative of Bloody Sunday: The Role of Photographs », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n° 3 | 2014, mis en ligne le 12 juin 2014, consulté le 31 octobre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Charlotte Barcat

Université Paris 3, France. Charlotte Barcat is currently working on a Ph.D. on Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry, under the supervision of Pr. Valérie Peyronel at the University of Paris 3. She is also a teaching assistant in the English Department at the University of Brest. She spent a year as a language assistant at Magee College (University of Ulster), and she completed a Master’s dissertation entitled “Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry: Truth, Justice and Memory” at the University of Tours in 2009.

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