- 14 May 21
His answers to questions at the Ballymurphy Inquest, and the Saville Inquiry, were conveniently shrouded in an inability to remember. But it is increasingly clear that General Sir Michael Jackson – and others like him – have blood on their hands, and should be brought before the courts now.
The former head of the British army told the Ballymurphy inquest two years ago that it would be “preposterous” to suggest that there had been any sort of plot to cover-up of the killing of 10 unarmed civilians.
“We don’t do conspiracies,” declared General Sir Michael Jackson.
The long-awaited verdict on the August 1971 killings has helped clear up any doubt as to whether Jackson was lying. The evidence suggests that he himself was the arch conspirator at the time of Ballymurphy, of Bloody Sunday five months later and, almost certainly, given his form, of other run-of-the-mill atrocities not yet exposed to the light.
The trail of blood left by troops under Jackson's command deepened grief, sharpened anger and helped create the circumstances for the decades of murder and mayhem which followed. So far, he has faced no sanction.
NO ADMISSION OF GUILT
The troops’ behaviour was not the sole reason for the spiral of savagery in the early 1970s. Loyalist paramilitaries, the Provos and other armed outfits did their bit. But throughout, in the midst of all, British soldiers on the streets were uniformed to represent the State. That’s what’s distinctive about Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday – that these things were done in the name of the State.
The State doesn’t classify itself alongside terrorists/paramilitaries, but as a legal authority representing the law that citizens must adhere to. When the State kills its citizens, then, it must be held to account. Otherwise, what meaning can attach to democracy?
The call for the perpetrators of Ballymurphy to face criminal charges is not a call for revenge, or a Nationalist demand, but a democratic imperative.
Breidge Voyle, whose mother, Joan Connolly, was among the Ballymurphy dead, said after the inquest: “They are now declared innocent. They were no threat to anyone. Why did (the paratroopers) murder them in the first place? Why?”
The inquest cannot be the last word. The whole truth needs telling and cannot be told without factoring in the role of Michael Jackson, as representative on the spot of the military and political elite.
Jackson – General Sir Michael Jackson, GCB, CBE, DSO, DL – joined the forces as an intelligence officer in 1963, transferred to the Parachute Regiment in 1970, then rose steadily through the ranks until, in 2003, he became Chief of the General Staff, Britain’s top soldier.
It has been suggested by well-meaning liberal commentators that his role in Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday ought to have disqualified him from promotion to such a lofty position. In truth, it’s more likely he rose through the ranks precisely on account of having been a key player in these terrible events. He supervised State murder and then covered the tracks. He did the State some service, deserved reward, earned the promotions which were to raise him to the pinnacle of Britain’s armed forces.
There have now been apologies galore for the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres, some more gracefully offered than others. But there’s been no confession of wrongdoing, no admission of guilt. Instead, an epidemic of amnesia.
Jackson had been on the ground in Rossville Street in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday as his battalion went about its work. A minimum of 109 shots from NATO-issue self-loading rifles were fired in his vicinity at unarmed civilians. He maintained under oath that he hadn’t seen or heard any of it.
More than 20 times during two stints in the witness box at the Saville Inquiry he used phrases along the lines, “I don’t remember… I cannot recall… I am afraid I cannot help you there.”
This was along the exact lines of the evidence he was to give to the Ballymurphy inquest, where he described his role as “a hybrid of community relations and press officer." He didn’t deny that it had been he who’d told the press afterwards that the paras had been attacked on August 10th by “about 20” gunmen. The soldiers had opened fire in response. The battle had lasted “two or three hours.”
Nobody else at all, civilian or soldier, in any interview or presentation, has since mentioned this dramatic, prolonged and surely unforgettable experience.
Jackson couldn’t understand why none of the shooters had afterwards been asked about the circumstances in which they had fired – as would have been standard military procedure. “It simply doesn't add up… It may have been the whole system was overwhelmed by the mayhem of that week… I don’t know…
“But I do know we don't do conspiracies..."
Asked about a report in the Belfast Telegraph on August 11th 1971, in which an unnamed captain had described the shooting of “two gunmen” – established later as John Laverty and Joseph Corr – Jackson agreed that he was likely the captain referred to.
"I wouldn't disagree. But I was at this time talking to reporters not only in Northern Ireland, but the mainland and international."
He admitted that he hadn't heard any shooting or seen any dead or wounded bodies.
Jackson retired in 2006. He has since become something of a TV celebrity, ever on hand to offer expert commentary on military matters.
We can blame individual soldiers for their trigger-happy readiness to open fire on unthreatening targets. Blame Boris Johnson and his malicious sidekick Brandon Lewis for their insulting apologies to the Ballymurphy bereaved. Blame successive British governments for their unconcern for human life in general and, in particular, for the lives of uppity sorts whom they found unmanageable.
The vital links in this chain of iniquity were the likes of Michael Jackson, murderer, liar and altogether representative of the breed that he came from.