There were emotional scenes at Derry courthouse this afternoon as the former commanding officer of the two ex-soldiers directly involved in the shooting of a 15-year-old boy in the city 1972 expressed his sorrow to the family of the deceased teenager.
Appearing before the inquest into the death of Manus Deery was Major Trevor Wilson, who was then commander of C Company of the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters when the fatal shooting occurred 44 years ago.
Towards the conclusion of his evidence Mr Wilson was asked by senior counsel for the Ministry of Defence and PSNI, Mr Martin Wolfe if there was anything he would like to say to the family of Manus Deery. The former major, who was at times very emotional, said: “It is difficult to comprehend the devastating effect that the loss of Manus at such a young age and in such circumstances must have had on the family.
“You have my deepest sympathy and I hope that this inquiry may provide some comfort to you and I shall continue to remember Manus and you in my thoughts and prayers.”
Having left the stand Mr Wilson was followed out of the courtroom by members of the Deery family and they conducted a private conversation in a side room.
Earlier the court heard that the former officer, now in his 70s, was commissioned into the British Army in 1958 and was a company commander by 1971. He left that command position when he was deployed to the Ministry of Defence in 1973.
The court also heard that his company was initially prepared to deployed in a reconnaissance role to Andersonstown in Belfast but at short notice they were sent to Derry instead. C Company was based in the Brandywell district and at look-out positions on the city walls.
Questioned by Mr Gerry McAlinden, senior counsel for the Coroners Service about the contents of an end of tour report compiled by his battalion commander that cited a belief that it was necessary to have more shooting training for soldiers and both elevated and depressed targets, the former Major said he did not agree with that scenario.
“My opinion is that the provision of training in that report is overstated, because I do not believe there is a considerable difference in shooting at targets whether elevated or depressed at 150 metres and shooting on the level,” said Mr Wilson.
The witness was shown a SLR weapon of the type used by the British Army in the 1970s and agreed it was a standard type that he had seen. When asked if these rifles, the type used by Private William Glasgow, the deceased ex-soldier who fired the fatal round, and Soldier B had been fitted with any telescopic sights he said: “Not to the best of my knowledge.”
He did agree however when shown a picture of a member of C Company holding a SLR with a scope fitted, that at least one such telescopic device had been available.
Mr Wilson said: “That sight was provided at Brandywell. The person holding that weapon is a duty sergeant. I can’t remember whether he was demonstrating or testing its effectiveness. I remember we only had one.
The witness was also quizzed on the British Army’s ‘Yellow Card’, the guidelines for engaging gunmen or bombers. Asked if the ‘Yellow Card’ was specifically introduced for the Northern Ireland conflict, Mr Wilson said: “To the best of my knowledge it was, but I would imagine there were similar instructions for use in other places.”
He was also asked if soldiers were instructed on the ‘Yellow Card’ before or after their arrival in Northern Ireland he responded: “As I said in my statement, it was a top priority before deployment.”
Mr McAlinden then said: “Bloody Sunday happened just a few months before this incident. Did it place a greater emphasis on the ‘Yellow Card’.
“I believe that it did,” said Major Wilson.
Mr McAlinden then asked that given the rules of engagement and the fact at the time of the shooting of Manus Deery there was no incoming fire towards the Army post, it was a built up urban environment, the distance into the area where the round hit was almost 200 metres and it was on a downward trajectory, was it justifiable for Private William Glasgow to shoot?
Major Wilson said: “It comes back to the individuals at that time. If he believed that the person was going to fire then he acted correctly. From the trail position (holding a rifle horizontally at your side) to the firing position could take a second and a half. For him not to shoot would have been irresponsible and a dereliction of duty.”
The witness recalled that he had written a report stating that Glasgow was a first class marksman and that all soldiers were examined on their shooting abilities annually, and that in his estimation Glasgow was capable of hitting a target over 190 metres as darkness fell.
He also stated that he wasn’t aware of the circumstances surrounding the military investigation into the killing as that was a responsibility for battalion headquarters and not himself. The sole purpose of a company commander he said was to oversee operations on the ground.
Major Wilson also said that he was never made aware of any communication that suggested Soldier A had breached the ‘Yellow Card’ guidelines.
“The first I heard of that was a few weeks ago. There again that was not company level responsibility to deal with disciplinary matters, that is a matter for battalion level,” he said.
The ex-soldier therefore said that he had no idea who wrote the reports after the shooting took place.
Senior Counsel for the Deery family, Fiona Doherty asked Mr Wilson of his recollection of the incident.
“I don’t have any recollection of the incident but I remember the aftermath of it. Apart from the shot being fired, my first subsequent recollection of a report coming through of a crowd gathering at Waterloo (Place). It was later that I heard that someone had been seriously wounded in the incident.”
The crowd which gathered at Waterloo Protest marched in protest to a nearby RUC station where a small delegation from them was admitted in order to speak to a Major representing the British Army.
Fiona Doherty asked Mr Wilson: “Were you that major?”
The response from the witness was: “No.”
Also asked if he had thought about whether there was any justification for the shooting he replied: “No, I didn’t think about it. Not until about 18 months ago.”
Miss Doherty said: “So you didn’t think about it until you were contacted about this inquest. The question of justification never entered your mind in the last 44 years?”
Major Wilson replied: “I didn’t think about because I believed the person who was shot was the person who had the rifle. My position is that I believe the soldier was within his rights to fire the shot unequivocally.”
The court heard that the average size of a British Army company in that era was around 90.
Asked by Martin Wolfe, senior counsel for the Ministry of Defence and PSNI how well he knew the men under his command, Major Wilson said: “I like to think I knew them well.”
“What is your memory of Soldier A?” asked Mr Wolfe.
Major Wilson said: “I have spoken to a number of people over the last few months who knew him. Consequently I have a picture in my mind but I can’t say I have a memory of him as a person.”
The inquest into the death of Manus Deery moves into its second and final week next Monday, October 24.