Peter Pringle shows the power of investigative journalism

Peter Pringle, writer, journalist and investigative reporter

Peter Pringle was born in England on 28 June, 1940. He took an Honours degree in Science at Oxford University and later became a member of the august Linnean Society of London. Then came a career change: he switched from science to journalism. He showed immediate talent as an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent, excelling in both.

He now lives in New York with his partner Eleanor Randolph, formerly a long-serving member of The New York Times editorial board, and an outstanding political correspondent. She stepped down from the NYT in 2013 but continues to write occasionally on political and social subjects, telling her large circle of admirers: “I’m still working.” “Elly” has worked for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and her work has also appeared in Vogue, Esquire and other magazines. She wrote the 1996 book Waking the Tempests on the new Russia, and in 2019 The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg.

In the early 1980s Pringle was repelled by the “tits and bums” approach of his new London proprietor Rupert Murdoch. In 1975 he had been bureau chief in New York and now moved there permanently, making his name writing about America’s tumultuous politics. For the next 40 years, he was gripped by the “Big Apple” zeitgeist (German word meaning “spirit of the time”) and its intellectual, romantic and seductive power. He became a British-born institution in the bosom of America. He wrote for the London Observer, The Independent, the Guardian and countless magazines.

Better late than never

On 4 September 2022, Peter Pringle received an apology from the Portuguese Government over an article he had written 50 years earlier.

The apology was a very long time coming, but it was a rousing vindication of Pringle’s investigative journalism, learned on London’s Sunday Times in the 1960s and later as a foreign correspondent in New York, Washington and Moscow for the London Observer and The Independent.

Pringle travelled all over the world; he believed in primary sources and eye-witness accounts. Nothing became a fact worth publishing unless he had at least two or three other sources.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa delivered the apology to Mozambique, the east African republic where troops massacred hundreds of civilians in the village of Wiriyamu in December 1972.

The world was not looking, but Peter Pringle was. He filed his report which Portuguese authorities dismissed at the time as “pure invention”. The slaughter drew comparisons with the My Lai massacre by American soldiers in Vietnam and Washington leant heavily on Mozambique to “hush up” the war crime.

Pringle was in Mozambique on a war-reporting assignment for London’s Sunday Times covering the struggle by the liberation movement FRELIMO (Frente de Libertaçao de Moçambique) co-led by Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel to gain independence from fascist-ruled Portugal in Europe.

Mondlane, who studied at Oberlin College in Ohio, was killed by a parcel bomb in Tanzania’s capital city, Dar-es-Salaam, on 3 February 1969. He was 48. Although the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE, was widely named as the perpetrator, the mail bomb was so sophisticated that the American CIA was later accused of his murder. No one has ever been charged.

Father Adrian Hastings: Pringle’s source

The American CIA was providing guns, uniforms and soldiers to the Mozambique regime, and Pringle set out to prove Washington’s secret war against FRELIMO.

In the village of Wiriyamu he interviewed two Catholic priests who both swore that soldiers had herded villagers into a central square and ordered them to clap their hands and chant “goodbye”. The troops then opened fire. The slaughter was similar to the massacres committed during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Pringle was detained and placed under house arrest at a hotel where he was staying. He managed to contact London and file his story by telex.

Massacre report unpublished in The Times

Then followed a seven-month delay in which Pringle’s Sunday Times war report and his massacre revelations lay unpublished in a sister London paper, The Times. Why?

Portugal’s Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano, a clerical fascist, had been officially invited to London to mark the 600th anniversary of the so-called Anglo-Portuguese alliance.

Marcelo Caetano, fascist

Caetano’s engagements included lunch with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, and a visit to No 10 Downing Street for talks with British Minister Alec Douglas Home, as well as meetings with eminent Catholics, American, British and South African diplomats. Caetano received the full “red-carpet” treatment.

A 2022 media report stated: “Pringle’s stories and the Sunday Times editorials soured the mood of the festivities. Harold Wilson, the Labour Opposition Leader at the time, demanded Caetano’s trip be cancelled.

“Father Adrian Hastings, the priest who had first alerted Pringle to the massacre, used an address to the United Nations to criticise the church’s role in colonial oppression.”

Two years later, Mozambique won its independence and FRELIMO took power in the capital of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).

Pringle and co-author Jim Spigelman expose American nuclear ownership

Apart from his trail-blazing journalism, Pringle has written memorable books as well. They include his London Sunday Times books on the Middle East War of 1974 and INSIGHT on Portugal, in 1975, both published by André Deutsch.

In 1981, with co-author Jim Spigelman, he published The Nuclear Barons exposing the political and social issues of nuclear power and the nuclear arms race.

Jim Spigelman, top lawyer, former NSW Chief Justice and Pringle’s  co-author in 1981 book on nuclear power

One reviewer, John Pendergast, noted: “The story of the nuclear barons is not one of evil ambition or soulless profiteering. The cast of characters, which proliferates as rapidly as nuclear technology itself, shares only the characteristic of energetic activity. These are people who make things happen. In the midst of ethical, technical and economic uncertainty, they rarely hesitate. Excited by the glamour of a new and promising technology, they continually press forward, confident that all problems will eventually be solved. Only recently has their confidence been seriously questioned by more than a small minority.”

Spigelman returned to Sydney after his book-writing experience in Washington DC. He became the 16th NSW Chief Justice (1998-2011) and ABC chairman (2012-2017) but remains best remembered for his part in the 1965 “Freedom Ride” with other Sydney University students to draw attention to shocking racism against Aborigines in NSW towns.

Pringle’s most celebrated book, CORNERED: Big Tobacco at the Bar of Justice, established the link between cigarettes and lung cancer. It is a work based on the most diligent scientific research, fact-checking and page-turning excitement. Reviewers remarked “that it reads like a thriller rather than an academic work”. Pringle is regarded as an “expert witness” in civil actions that have cost Big Tobacco a fortune in damages.

In 2003 his book about biotech agriculture, Food Inc, was The New York Times and American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. The New York Times book review said it was “a feast of honest reporting and serious thought”.

Pringle extracts a House of Commons apology from Prime Minister Cameron

Peter Pringle’s most effective book, co-authored by Phil Jacobson, Those Are Real Bullets, Aren’t They? is a complete account of the British Parachute Regiment (SAS) attack on peaceful demonstrators in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 30 January, 1972.

Pringle and Jacobson were London Sunday Times investigative reporters and foreign correspondents sent to Derry to give a detailed, eye-witness account of Bloody Sunday.

The public and media campaign by Pringle and Jacobson led to British Prime Minister David Cameron making a public apology in the House of Commons to the victims and their loved ones.

Cameron wanted “no doubt” that his apology was the “real thing” and not another long-winded parliamentary evasion.

MPs sat stunned as Cameron told them that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was wrong, full stop” and the killings by British soldiers were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

“Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic,” Cameron began. “I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world.

“And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve.

“But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

PM Cameron’s apology greeted by crowds in Westminster

Cameron’s apology was prompted by the last in a long line of “official inquiries” into the British army’s killing of 13 unarmed Catholics on a protest march in Derry’s Bogside. Four were shot in the back and another 13 were wounded.

In the previous decades, Pringle and Jacobson had exposed every inquiry ordered by Westminster. Usually headed by a “safe” judge or a Member of the House of Lords (with a military background or close connections with the Royal family), their reports cleared the army of any responsibility.

Lord Saville changes the rules

When Lord Saville was thrown the brief, he changed all the rules. He took 10 years to complete his report. And it cost a staggering £200 million sterling ($AU 340 million).

He concluded that the soldiers who went into the Bogside did so as a result of an order which should not have been given by their commander; the first shot was fired by the British Army; and that none of those shot by soldiers was armed with a firearm.

Although he found that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries, “none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties”. In any case, British soldiers gave no warning before opening fire with live rounds.

He also found that British soldiers lost their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training.

Saville concluded that “soldiers who went into action on Bloody Sunday did so as a result of an order given by their commander, and that, on balance, the first shot was fired by the British Army. None of the casualties were armed with a firearm.

“Although he found that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties. In no case, was any warning given before soldiers opening fire.

British soldier on Bloody Sunday

“He also found that soldiers lost their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training, thus causing “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”.

In spite of sworn evidence by British soldiers, Saville concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. And he found that many of the soldiers put forward false accounts to justify firing.

Cameron told the Commons: “Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

“His report refers to one person who was shot while crawling away from the soldiers. Another was shot in all probability when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground. The report refers to the father who was hit and injured by army gunfire after going to attend to his son.

“For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says that the immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of the support company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries.

“Crucially, that, and I quote, none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury or indeed was doing anything else that could, on any view, justified in shooting.

“For those people who are looking for the report to use terms like murder and unlawful killing, I remind the House that these judgments are not matters for a tribunal or politicians to determine.

“Mr Speaker, these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.

“We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.

“There is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.”

Cameron shocks MPs, the Army and Royalty

Prime Minister Cameron closed his apology saying: “Mr Speaker, this report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a State should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times, no matter how difficult, to judge ourselves against the highest standards.

“Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, they do not make us weaker, they make us stronger.

“That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists …. Politically-motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from. And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to draw Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it.

“But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville, what happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed.

“Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.

“Those are words we cannot and must not ignore. But I hope what this report can also do it is mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities that we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us. And it is with that determination that I commend this statement to the House.”

The story reaches a climax

Catholics have overtaken Protestants for the first time in Northern Ireland, according to an official census taken in 2021 and released on 22 September 2022. The democratic milestone will intensify political demands for an early referendum to unite Ireland as a free, separate and independent nation of all religions, including non-believers, agnostics, Islamists, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists and others.

The census found that 45.7% of residents of Ulster are Catholics while the Protestant community has declined to just 43.5%, five points lower than a decade ago.

Simultaneously, the census found that almost a third of the population now hold Irish passports, a 63% surge since Brexit became the London Government’s policy under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The first post-partition census in 1926 found that two-thirds of its people identified as British. Only a third said they were Irish. During the ensuing years of Protestant, pro-British ascendency, Catholics lived under what Ulster’s first prime minister James Craig called “a Protestant parliament in a Protestant State”.

According to the latest census, polls, interviews and biographies, the long-held dream for a united Ireland is becoming a reality: the British army’s occupation begun in 1968, enforcing London and Crown rule, has drawn to a close and ended in failure.


  1. Let us hope that there is soon a peaceful democratic decision to unite Ireland. In a year that marks both the death of the UK’s longest serving monarch and the 100th anniversary of the messy end of the so called Irish Civil War, it is high time the partitioning into Northern Ireland (in the UK) and the Irish Free State (if I may use that term) is ended. But I must declare an interest. My late mother’s paternal great grandfather was born on a British troop ship returning from 20 years enlisted service by his father. Who signed up in 1851 at the time of potato famine and starvation. We learned from a geneology booth at Cobh that Royal Mail was used to ensure 10% of new recruits’ wages were distributed back to their family. In a month’s motorhome* vacation, we only knew we were crossing the border when the satnav changed miles kilometers and a while later from speed limit signs in miles per hour or kilometers per hour.

    * I believe the Aussie one word fits all is ‘camper van’. To us pernickety Brits that is a slightly different beast, a conversion of a whole new van rather than a coach-built body on an extended chassis 😉

  2. Revealing, invaluable reminiscences about the life and work of Peter Pringle, typical from the Alex mind-full encyclopaedia. Best revelation is this latest post lies in the poster ‘ Irish Unity the Solution to Brexit.’

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