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The secret scale model of Derry used to plan Bloody Sunday. By David Burke.

There is compelling evidence that a military operation was planned in secret in Belfast with the intention that it would be executed in Derry on 30 January 1972. The plan was developed around a scale model – or ‘sand table’ - of the Bogside by three of the most senior British Army officers in the North. The conspirators relied upon faulty military and MI5 intelligence. The plan spiralled out of control. The result was the Bloody Sunday massacre. The existence of the ‘sand table’ has been censored, ignored and covered up for fifty years. Adding grievous insult to injury, the model - or a replica of it - was used as a prop at the Widgery tribunal. It is impossible to conceive of a more contemptuous affront to the victims of Bloody Sunday than that of Colonel Derek Wilford using the model to advance his perjury at Widgery.

The scale model of the Bogside used at the Widgery tribunal

 1. Kitson and Wilford claimed to have no interest in Derry yet ….

1 Para, the regiment responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre, was based at Palace Barracks, Hollywood, near Belfast City. If we are to believe Colonel Derek Wilford, the commander of 1 Para, and his superior Brigadier (later General Sir) Frank Kitson, neither of them paid much heed to what was going on in Derry which was 70 miles away and under a different command.

Belfast was part of 3 Brigade area.

Derry was part of 8 Brigade area. It was under the command of Brigadier Patrick MacLellan. No criticism is made of Brigadier (later General) MacLellan in this article. The plan hatched at Palace Barracks was conceived and executed behind his back.

At the Saville inquiry, Kitson testified that he had no interest in Derry and may only have been there once for a going-away party. This is impossible to believe.

When 1 Para was ‘lent’ to 8 Brigade in Derry, it was meant to have fallen under the command of Brigadier MacLellan. However, it behaved in a manner which contradicted the chain of command. An analysis of the independent mode of its operation can be found on this website at: The covert plan to smash the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday by David Burke

2. The ‘Sand Table’ at Palace Barracks, Belfast

The scale model of the Bogside was probably delivered to Belfast and set up in a planning room at Palace Barracks more than a month before the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march that led to the Bloody Sunday massacre. The British Army calls such models ‘sand tables’. The main photograph which accompanies this story is quite possibly the actual model that was at Palace barracks in Belfast. It was taken at the Widgery tribunal.

The sand table representation of the Rossville flats. Note the level of detail including the various bridges linking the blocks.

The mere presence of the ‘sand table’ at Palace Barracks contradicts pages of sworn evidence provided by senior officers such as Kitson, Wilford and their superior, General Robert Ford, Commander of Land Forces, at the Saville Inquiry.

There is only one conceivable reason for having a model of the Bogside at Palace Barracks: to plan a military operation for execution  in the area depicted in the sand table, i.e. an invasion of the ‘no-go’ area known as Free Derry.

3. The supreme affront to the victims of Bloody Sunday, one that continues to this day

Bloody Sunday took place on 30 January, 1972. The Widgery tribunal began taking evidence on 21 February 1972, that is to say three weeks later. The sand table was present from the outset of the proceedings. It would have been impossible for the tribunal to have commissioned a team of surveyors to make a representation of the city within that time.

The sand table representation of the Rossville flat complex (left); a photograph of the complex (right)

The army’s models were made in Germany. The model at Widgery is of such detail – note the sloping roofs of some of the buildings –  that it would have taken a team of surveyors a week or more to have completed the schematics for it. The IRA would have abducted them within minutes. No witnesses have ever come forward to say that a survey took place. If one had, it would have had to have been sent to Germany where the model-makers could get to work. The notion that a team of military surveyors could have driven about Free Derry for a week or more in the wake of the massacre is so absurd that it need not be elaborated upon any further.

Note the detail of the model down to the differences in the roofs close to where 1 Para deployed on Bloody Sunday.

The model had to be of such detail that those relying upon it could figure out where IRA gunmen might confront them. Hence, the intricate detail as evidenced by the sloping roofs.

Lord Widgery

The Widgery model of the Bogside was either made to the specifications used in the creation of the Palace Barracks model; or it was the original one from Palace Barracks.

Either way, the presence of such a model at Widgery was a deeply cynical and contemptuous insult to the victims of Bloody Sunday, the depth of disdain of which it is difficult to comprehend.

Left to right: Ford, MacLellan, Wilford and Major Loden

What must Wilford have thought as he used it to further the perjury that he spouted at the Widgery tribunal?

4. Pete The Para

A very rare photograph of Peter ‘Pete the Para’ McMullen from a British Intelligence file. Village would like thank Paper Trail for the photograph. Paper Trail has many articles which will be of interest to Village readers. See:

Peter McMullen was a paratrooper at Palace Barracks. He was so shocked by what he learnt about what was planned for Bloody Sunday that he used his contacts in Belfast – he was married to an Irish woman – to obtain explosives to attack 1 Para’s fleet of vehicles so they would not be able to get to Derry. He set off a series of explosions on the Thursday night before the massacre and fled and joined the IRA. He became known as Pete the Para. He told the Boston Globe in 1979 that in late January 1972 he overheard officers talking in the mess about the forthcoming NICRA march in Derry. “Some of the officers talked about showing these bastards what it’s like to face a Para”. According to the Globe:

He also noticed that several brigadier generals had suddenly joined the officers’ mess, and their general conversation was about flushing out the IRA in Derry, forcing them into a confrontation on Sunday and dealing them a heavy blow. Later that day, in the sergeants’ mess, McMullen heard a sergeant-major say, ‘We’re going into Derry and these bastards are going to get their comeuppance’.

It is likely that these officers had just come from a planning session around the model.

The reference to “several brigadier generals” is intriguing. There was no one with the rank of “brigadier general” in the army but there were two officers with the word “general’” in their title in Northern Ireland at the time, Harold Tuzo and Robert Ford, and three brigadiers under their command including Kitson and MacLellan. Tuzo, Ford and Kitson were based in Lisburn, some fourteen miles away from Palace Barracks. The other brigadiers, MacLellan and Lieutenant-Colonel Ken Dodson, were stationed much further away.

Frank Kitson

MacLellan did not visit Palace Barracks at this time.

If McMullen’s story is accurate, it indicates that Kitson and Ford had travelled to Palace Barracks to review something that was afoot there.

What else could have taken place around the sand table but a planning session modelling and foreshadowing the NICRA march?

5. The testimony of Murray Sayle


Murray Sayle, his report was censored by his editor Harold Evans of The Sunday Times.

On the Friday after Bloody Sunday, Murray Sayle, a veteran war correspondent who wrote for The Sunday Times, inveigled an invitation over the phone to visit Palace Barracks. There he was escorted on a tour by an army public relations officer. Astonishingly, he showed Sayle the ‘sand table’ representation of the Bogside. When he testified at the Saville Inquiry, Sayle explained that he asked the PR officer:  “‘Well, where did you plan this, where is the exam table”, fishing, if you like, and he said, “it is in the next room”. What I do vividly remember is being taken into the room and seeing it. Now, I presumed there had to be one because that is how these operations are planned, but it was most interesting, indeed, to have it confirmed there was one and I remember thinking how detailed it was and I said, “did you make this here”, he showed me round it and he said, “No, we made it in Germany”. He is the source of that information.

A photograph of part of the Rossville flat complex

Sayle added: “I still have a vivid recollection of seeing, on something that looked like about the size of a billiard table, so it was maybe 6 feet long, 4 feet wide and it vividly sticks in my mind and is mentioned in the memo [to the editor of the Sunday Times shortly after Bloody Sunday], the detailed nature of this, this model…”.

He was asked:  “When you talk about ‘a sand model’, was it literally [made from sand]?”.

He answered:  “No, these are collectively called ‘sand tables’ and the process is called ‘sand tabling it’. No doubt – it is an ordinary military term – no doubt they were once made of sand, but they are usually called a sand table”.

Next, Sayle was shown a photograph of a model of the Bogside which had been used at the Widgery Tribunal and asked if it resembled the one he had seen at Palace Barracks. His response was: “Very much like that, very much like that”.

Murray Sayle

6. The opinion of model makers

In  research for my recent book on Frank Kitson and Bloody Sunday, I interviewed two modelling experts separately. I showed them the photograph of the scale model without revealing what my interest in it was, save how long it would have taken to complete it. Both agreed  that it would have taken approximately two weeks to make in normal circumstances. When asked about the representations of the Rossville flats, they agree that “that would have been the easy part”.  One of the modellers has said that there “were probably architectural and engineers’ plans in existence for them which could have been sourced from the planning authorities but probably not for the older buildings. The old church there is another example of where measurements would have had to be collected by an on-the-spot examination. A team of people could have gone in and photographed all of these buildings and the roads”. Once that was done, the data would have had to be matched to street maps before it was sent to Germany. “A lot would depend on how many people were involved. A team could have done it in weeks”. The other expert has pointed out that the lines of bricks could have been counted from photographs, to reveal the height of buildings.

If we are to believe Ford and Wilford, the first Wilford learned of his orders to go to Derry was the Monday preceding Bloody Sunday when General Ford told him he was being lent to 8 Brigade.

Derek Wilford

7. The Saville Report

When Wilford appeared in the witness box at Saville in 2003, he was not asked about the sand table and offered up nothing about it of his own volition. Any discussions he had around it with Ford and Kitson remain a secret to this day. Instead, he is sticking by his lies that his troops were the victims of an attack by the IRA on Bloody Sunday.

Ford, who is now dead, stuck to the same story in his evidence to Saville.

Lord Saville saw nothing of any remote significance about the existence of the Palace Barracks sand table. He determined that a number of soldiers far lower down the chain of command opened fire on unarmed civilians in a moment of madness.

Soldiers E, G and J. They shot innocent civilians on Bloody Sunday.

The sad reality is that the evidence indicates they were acting in accordance with a plan to provoke the IRA to engage in battle with them, wipe them out and retake ‘Free Derry’. The IRA, however, did not respond. The only people to die were unarmed civilians who posed no threat to the soldiers of 1 Para.

The existence of the sand table in Belfast is only one piece of a far larger jigsaw of evidence which points to a plan to provoke a street battle with the IRA on 30 January.

The Saville Report should not be taken as the final word on Bloody Sunday.

The victims of Bloody Sunday

8. Questions for the Ministry of Defence

The sand table was probably made by the RAF in Germany. Records should still exist, whether in the possession of the RAF or some other part of Britain’s military or wider governmental network

The Irish government should ask London for answers to the following questions:

Who made the model of Derry that was present at Palace Barracks in January and February 1970?

When and where was it made?

Who supplied the data for the model?

What was the nature and scope of the data supplied to the model makers?

When was it commissioned?

Who commissioned it?

When was it delivered to Northern Ireland?

Was a second model ordered by the Widgery tribunal, and, if so, when?

Where is the model now?

Why did the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) fail to deliver all of the information about the model to the Saville inquiry?

On what basis did the MoD believe that the existence of a scale model of Derry which was in the possession of 1 Para in Belfast was not a serious matter which should have been brought to the attention of the Saville inquiry by the MoD?

What inquiries, if any, did the Saville inquiry make of the MoD after hearing the evidence of Murray Sayle?

David Burke is the author of ‘Kitson’s Irish War’. It can be purchased here:



The covert plan to smash the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday by David Burke

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