By Ray Fleming

THE twelve years spent in ascertaining exactly what happened in Londonderry on 30 January 1972 has been widely and understandably criticised but the publication yesterday of the Saville Inquiry into the shooting by the British army of 13 civilians goes a considerable way to justify the time taken. At first sight the report is comprehensive, detailed and written in clear language. It is the very opposite of the disgraceful Widgery report into the shootings which was earlier produced in a matter of two months and satisfied no one with its findings.

The prime minister set the tone of consideration of the Saville Report. It showed, he said that the action of the British Army was “unjustified and unjustifiable”; it “unequivocally blamed the Army” and Mr Cameron expressed his deep sorrow. The head of the Army, Sir David Richards, said that he fully supported what the prime minster had said and accepted that there had been “serious failings by officers and men”.

An important finding by Saville concerned the role played in Londonderry by Martin McGuinness who is now deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland government. Saville said: “Martin McGuinness was present and probably armed but did nothing to justify the opening of fire by the British soldiers.” On all these issues there will be prolonged analysis and reaction; the important thing is that it should be undertaken in a calm and not provocative way.