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Controversy either way in Bloody Sunday report

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 June 2010

Channel 4 News Northern Irish affairs commentator Eamon Mallie says a huge amount is at stake ahead of the publication on 15 June of the long-awaited findings of the inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings. 

Getty, graves

There is close to paranoia in government circles that the findings of the Bloody Sunday report might leak ahead of publication.

Thirteen civil rights protesters were shot dead by members of the parachute regiment in Derry's Bogside district on 30 January, 1972. Another man died four and a half months later reportedly due to injuries sustained in the attack.

In 1998, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair invited Lord Saville to carry out an investigation into the circumstances of the controversial killings.

And now the Northern Ireland Office is going to extraordinary lengths ahead of publication day on 15 June, to prioritise the dignity of the families who lost loved ones and the soldiers against whom nationalists have directed blame all down the years.

The respective legal teams are being given access to the report seven hours ahead of the Prime Minister's  House of Commons statement. The families will get the report five hours before publication. The media will be strip-searched on arrival at Derry's City Hotel, with all means of communication taken from them, as they are locked away one hour before David Cameron rises to his feet to address MPs. The media will then be furnished with a sixty page summary of Lord Saville's report - it will be impossible to digest 5,000 pages in one hour.

Any leaking of the report would put the cat among the pigeons big time.

I advisedly refer to the possibility of a leak as  'a housekeeping matter' when set against the import which will attach to the substance of the report. The findings of Saville will be controversial come what may. The fact of the matter is that nearly forty years on Northern Ireland remains a very divided society.

The consensus in the Catholic Nationalist Community would be that innocent people were murdered on the streets of Derry by British soldiers. In the opinion of most Unionist politicians like local MP Gregory Campbell, there would be a contrary view.

Reputations on the line

Big reputations are at stake within the establishment. Army personnel on the streets of Derry on that fatal Sunday went on to hold some of the most senior posts in the MOD and in the security services. Some of these people have since died or have retired. When one considers Saville's possible conclusions, nightmare scenarios surface immediately.

Should he adjudicate 'unlawful killing' in each and every instance, the MOD is immediately in the dock. Put yourself in the shoes of the foot soldiers who believed they were simply obeying orders on the said day. Should Judge Saville come up with a split result arguing 'unlawful killing' in cases a, b, c, but not in cases d, e, f, etc, one can imagine the uproar and residual anger among families after all these years.

An "appalling vista"

Lord Denning, a former Master of the Rolls, once spoke of "an appalling vista" arising from an investigation into The Birmingham Six court case involving Irish subjects accused of planting bombs in Birmingham pubs in November 1974. Denning deemed the idea that the court findings might be wrong as unthinkable in sending the accused down for life. All six accused were later freed having spent years in gaol having been wrongly convicted.

Saville, a learned judge, has spent over a decade and close on £200m to come up with a correct finding and the world's eyes will be on his report on 15 June. The Israeli attack on the Gaza aid workers will only serve to sharpen the focus on the Bloody Sunday report.


Channel 4 News looks at the background and history of the Bloody Sunday inquiry

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