How the MOD played the Knocking Game after Bloody Sunday


Lord Saville's Report into Bloody Sunday will be debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday. No doubt the length and cost of the inquiry will feature prominently in the debate. 
The process might arguably have been less protracted had it not had to overcome a Ministry of Defence campaign to obscure the truth. Central to this campaign was 'The Knocking Game' an army document produced within three months of the 1972 massacre, which claimed that the victims were 'amateur gunmen'.
Former army information officer Colin Wallace testified to the inquiry that this document was used to brief the press. In contrast, the former head of the Information Policy Unit at Headquarters Northern Ireland, Colonel Maurice Tugwell, claimed that the document was intended for circulation solely within the army.
Faced with these conflicting accounts, Lord Saville concluded that there was no "evidence that anyone involved in military information disseminated to the public anything about Bloody Sunday, knowing or believing that information to be untrue."
However, evidence found by SpinWatch, but apparently withheld from the inquiry, shows that 'The Knocking Game' was intended for unattributable briefings, and was shown to at least one journalist, confirming Wallace's version of events.

The central claim of the The Knocking Game, produced by the Information Policy Unit in April 1972, was that criticisms of the Parachute Regiment were inspired by a sustained republican propaganda campaign. The regiment's role in Bloody Sunday was interpreted in this light by the document, which stated:

“Perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the Londonderry propaganda campaign is the manner in which the ‘Derry Martyrs’ have been deprived of all credit for what were, by any standards, brave and determined attempts by some of them to defend the Bogside against a parachute battalion. It was foolhardy for amateur gunmen to take on some of the best trained regular soldiers in Europe. Nevertheless they seized whatever weapons were to hand and died in the attempt. Only the most corrupt and cynical organisation would deliberately set out to deny them a proper measure of respect for their sacrifice.”

In his statement to the inquiry, Colin Wallace said the document was "prepared by Colonel Tugwell and demonstrates the Psy Ops approach to allegations about the Parachute Regiment." In his oral testimony, Wallace said the document was one of two instances he was aware of, in which the army put out misleading material about Bloody Sunday. He described it's purpose as follows:

It was given to journalists, particularly visiting journalists who perhaps had only covered one event, and what Colonel Tugwell I think was trying to demonstrate was that there had been a prolonged campaign against the Parachute Regiment of allegations of misbehaviour over a period of time, and also trying to show that some of the allegations had no foundation or were false.

Colonel Tugwell contradicted this in his own statement to the inquiry, saying:

The hand-out called The Knocking Game' was put together by Information Policy at HQNI with input from the press officers of I and 2 PARA. This appears as Document 25 to this statement. My recollection is that it was issued to all units in Northern Ireland and, I imagine, to staff branches there and in MOD. I cannot remember the scale of issue, but the idea was that lots of officers and soldiers serving In Northern Ireland should read it, that the nature of the specific anti-para campaign should be recognised, and that the broader subject of propaganda as a key component in revolutionary warfare might be better understood. As far as I can remember, it was not offered to media people, although it may have been picked up by some Journalists in the course of their usual work. lt describes the anti-para campaign waged at many levels including Messrs Winchester and Hoggart. The campaign lost some of its steam when on 14 January 1972, the Daily Telegraph's defence correspondent, Richard Cox, published the story within a story, that is the efforts to generate anti-para sentiment rather than the propaganda message itself.

Tugwell's claim that 'The Knocking Game' "was not offered to media people", is contradicted by evidence found by SpinWatch in the National Archives. The key document is a cable to the Information Policy Unit from the Ministry of Defence dated 24 April 1972. The relevant section reads:

2. The Knocking Game. We have no objection to circulating this on the lines you suggest and will attach it to our next monthly report. However, it is not what is wanted for public use and we intend offering it to IRD for their advice. We hope they may be able to adapt into suitable form for use in Ireland. We see Uttley made good use of this material.

The IRD, or Information Research Department, was a section of the Foreign Office largely devoted to unattributable press briefings. There would have been no reason to share the 'The Knocking Game' with the IRD if it was intended purely for internal circulation.
'Uttley' was a reference to the Sunday Telegraph correspondent T.E. Utley. In March 1972, the Ministry of Defence and the IRD had agreed that Tugwell and Wallace would brief Utley for a planned book on the Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. 
On 23 April 1972, Utley wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph, "That Bloody Sunday and After: Prospect of 'No-Go' showdown", which criticised Widgery for leaving the legitimacy of the Paras actions  open to doubt:
..He has established, (perhaps showing undue charity in the process) the fallibility of soldiers, however impeccable their intentions, operating in the heat of a riot.
Any such action, like almost any action in a civil war, is likely to lead to the killing or injuring of non-combatants, though in this case, many of the "non-combatants" concerned were themselves fulfilling an essential role in the tactics of the enemy, a role which, in practical certainty, may be said to have been deliberately designed for them.
If it is never legitimate for the State to inflict such casualties in such circumstances, it is not legitimate for it to suppress rebellion at all.
The main thrust of Utley's article was to repeated the Knocking Game's central charge of a propaganda campaign against the Paras. In places, the two accounts are interchangeable, with a number of points being repeated almost word for word. The following examples will illustrate this:

Cox Article

The Knocking Game: The September outburst died away and it was not until 14th January 1972 that an article by Richard Cox in the Daily Telegraph warned that the paras were once again in the sights of the IRA propaganda snipers…

Utley: …He reported that Irish journalists were seeking to entrap officers of other regiments into admitting that the use of the paras in Ulster had been disastrously counterproductive. Cox's article seems effectively to have scotched this allegation for a while.

Hoggart article

The Knocking Game: Evidently disturbed, the Guardian on the Tuesday following the incident printed an article attributed to Simon Hoggart in Belfast. Headed dramatically, "Army call bar to paratroops", it quoted various statements allegedly made by officers from other units. "The paratroops undid in 10 minutes the community relations it had taken four weeks to build up"

Utley: However, the Guardian reported on Tuesday the 25th (no doubt in good faith) the alleged opinion of a number of army officers in Belfast that "the paratroops undid in ten minutes the community relations it had taken four weeks to build up."

Propaganda themes

The Knocking Game: Eamonn McCann's booklet "What Happened in Derry" published in England by the International Socialists, sets out the revised theme in detail. Far from the shooting being indiscriminate and undisciplined it arose from the accurate and cold blooded execution of a plan to draw the IRA into action and then shoot "all men of military age who tried to cross these lines."

Utley: By Sunday, February 6 a new and more sophisticated version was being promulgated in detail by two Dublin newspapers, the Sunday Press and the Sunday Independent. The theory was that far from British troops having run amok they had been used as the instruments of a callous enterprise designed to enable the army to flush out the IRA from the bogside and the Creggan Estate and to achieve a decisive and bloody victory over them.

Sunday Independent article

The Knocking Game: The quintessence of this version came in the Sunday Independent of 6th February. The tactic of shooting "any male of military age within the vicinity of a shooting incident", readers were told, had been successfully applied in Belfast and was used for the first time in Londonderry on 30th January.

Utley: This was supplemented in the case of the Sunday Independent, by the suggestion that it was a settled part of British policy to kill Irish civilian males of military age.

Irish News article

The Knocking Game: On 24th February the Irish News published a statement written by the New Lodge Republican Club: "a 10-year old boy was spread-eagled on the stairs while soldiers trod on him and religious objects were thrown into the garden, and articles used by a blind woman in the Workshops for the Blind in the Belfast were destroyed during a two-hour search by the Parachute Regiment."…

Utley: …The Army received a letter from the father whose house had been searched denying that there was any truth in the account and saying he had also written to the Irish News in similar terms. the Irish News did not publish this letter.

2nd Irish News article:

The Knocking Game: The whole nature of IRA propaganda is best summed up by a Belfast housewife whose house was searched  by 2nd Para without causing any offence. The Irish News printed a story that soldiers had first broken the toilet and then urinated on the womans's son…

Utley …Next day she came to collect some articles which had been taken for examination during the search. The Company Commander drew her attention to the news story and, after agreeing that it was without foundation, the woman commented cheerfully, "oh never mind, that's just our propaganda!"

Utley's article was clearly based on 'The Knocking Game', as the MOD's 1972 cable assumes. Had that cable appeared in evidence to the inquiry, Tugwell's account of the British Army's information operations after Bloody Sunday would have been unsustainable.
A number of other cables from the same series were put to Colonel Tugwell during the inquiry. Yet the cable of 24 April did not come to light until it was found by SpinWatch at the National Archives. Significantly, it did not appear in the files of the Ministry of Defence but those of the Northern Ireland Office, presumably because it had been copied to Stormont in 1972.
As a result the Saville Inquiry was denied the evidence that would have shown that Wallace's version of events was the true one. The Information Policy Unit described the victims of Bloody Sunday as 'amateur gunmen' with every intention that impression would be conveyed to the press, and 'The Knocking Game' formed the basis for at least one article which libelled the dead as "fulfilling an essential role in the tactics of the enemy."







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *