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Bloody Sunday inquiry rules in favour of ITN

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 12 February 2004

ITN and two of its journalists threatened with prison for refusing to disclose confidential sources have welcomed a decision by the Bloody Sunday inquiry to take no further court action against them.

ITN said it regarded the decision as a legal landmark as it amounted to recognition of the right of journalists to protect the identity of their sources.

Lord Saville, the chairman of the inquiry, announced today that he would not take action for contempt of court against ITN and the two Channel 4 News journalists, Lena Ferguson and Alex Thomson.

Lord Saville said: "The Tribunal has concluded that it is not appropriate to take any further steps in these cases. In the view of the Tribunal, it is unlikely that any further action will produce new information of real value to its investigation of the events of Bloody Sunday."

ITN believes the decision today is of great significance, and redresses the balance in favour of investigative journalism after the questions raised by the Hutton Inquiry.

ITN's Chief Executive Mark Wood said: "Today's decision sets an important precedent. It is a rare example of the British courts upholding the rights of journalists and broadcasters to protect their sources in important matters of public interest. We're very pleased that Lord Saville has accepted that our journalists have co-operated in full with the inquiry but in the end they could not disclose their sources".

Alex Thomson, Chief Correspondent of Channel Four News, said: "This decision is a victory for investigative journalism and for ordinary members of the public who depend upon confidentiality to reveal evidence of serious wrongdoing. It is a vindication of our firm conviction that we should not betray the promise we made to our confidential sources, and we are pleased that the Tribunal has now accepted that it is not in the interests of justice to take legal action against us."

Lena Ferguson, now the BBC's Head of Political Programmes in Northern Ireland, said today: "I'm happy and relieved at today's outcome. After five years of co-operating with the BSI, I'm delighted our position has been vindicated. This is a boost not only for journalists but also for whistleblowers. We were never treating the BSI with contempt but upholding a principled promise made to the people who had helped us get our story on air. This was the only fair decision Lord Saville could have made."

The Chief Executive of Channel Four, Mark Thompson said: "We are delighted that Alex and Lena have had the threat of prison lifted from them. They have been extremely courageous in the stand they have taken. The need for journalists to resist pressure from authorities to reveal their sources is vital for the health of investigative journalism."

Lena Ferguson and Alex Thomson and ITN have refused to disclose the identities of anonymous soldiers who took part in a series of reports on Channel Four News in 1997 and 1998. Their investigation challenged the verdict of the original inquiry by Lord Widgery into the deaths of 13 people in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday. It was credited with playing an important role in persuading Tony Blair to call a new inquiry in January 1998, and praised by Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister.

Ms Ferguson and Mr Thomson were previously told by Lord Saville when they appeared as witnesses to the inquiry in 2002 that he had 'no option' but to initiate action for contempt if they refused to comply with the Tribunal's order to disclose their sources. The pair have continued to co-operate with the inquiry, but would not change their mind about breaking their promise of confidentiality to the soldiers.


Report 1: 17 January 1997

This report revealed soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment were present on the Derry City Walls and fired towards the areas where the killings took place. This had not been mentioned in the Widgery Report. It raised significant new questions about what had precipitated the shooting from the Parachute Regiment, whether they were indeed responsible for all the killings, and under what circumstances some of those killed were shot.

The programme put forward three sources of evidence -

a) Eyewitness accounts of shooting from the walls which had been rejected by Lord Widgery

b) Ballistics findings that suggested that some of the victims were hit by bullets fired from above ground, and which soldiers from the Parachute Regiment could not have fired

c) Intercepts of radio communications between soldiers on the day made by a local shopkeeper James Porter and whose existence had been previously unknown. In these, a British officer says soldiers on the walls returned fire with high velocity rounds after they had been fired on.

Lord Widgery examined the transcripts of these recordings in 1972 but decided they were inadmissible as evidence because they had been made illegally.

The Ministry of Defence, the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Anglian Regiment all refused to comment.

Report 2: 29 January 1997

After the previous broadcast, a soldier from the Royal Anglian Regiment who says he was part of a 14 man patrol on the Derry City walls had contacted the programme. He refuses to appear on camera or disclose his identity for fears about his and his family's safety.

This soldier recounts how a sniper from the Royal Anglians fired from a derelict house after spotting a man with a gun. 'Bloody hell, I've got two with three shots', he recalls the sniper saying.

ITN and the two journalists continue to refuse to disclose the identity of this soldier to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. We believe to do so would put his safety at risk, break a bond of confidentiality, and deter future whistle-blowers from speaking out in the public interest.

Report 3: 18 March 1997

A second anonymous soldier has come forward, a member of the Parachute Regiment who wishes to talk openly about the events of Bloody Sunday.

He agreed to be interviewed on camera but with his voice disguised and his identity protected. It was on condition that he remained anonymous.

The soldier said that 'command and control was absent, noticeably absent for a period of perhaps fifteen minutes during which the bulk of the injuries occurred' and that during that period 'decisions were made by individuals on the ground which led to some shameful and disgraceful acts being perpetrated.'

Later, the soldier says that the statement he made to the Widgery Tribunal was altered before he signed it. He was never called to give evidence.

This soldier agreed to give evidence to the new Bloody Sunday Inquiry under Lord Saville. ITN and Lena Ferguson handed over all material relating to his broadcast interview.

Report 4: 16 May 1997

Three more soldiers have come forward and agreed to be interviewed on the condition that they remain anonymous. All fear for their safety and that of their families' should they be identified. In the broadcast, their words are spoken by actors.

Their accounts present a further challenge to the official version of events given by the Widgery report.

A marksman with the 22nd Light Air Defence Regiment operating alongside the Parachute Regiment says he was not aware they were being fired on and did not have any rounds fired at him. 'If there'd have been incoming fire, I'd have heard it', he said.

He says the paratroopers fired from the hip into a crowd of people, in contrast to the official account that said all shots were aimed at threatening targets.

ITN and the two journalists continue to refuse to disclose the identity of this soldier to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. We believe to do so would put his safety at risk, break a bond of confidentiality, and deter future whistle-blowers from speaking out in the public interest.

A second soldier in this report says the Paratroopers were fired on, but that 'certain individuals did overreact and probably did go beyond the line'.

He reveals he was never asked for a statement when soldiers gave their accounts of Bloody Sunday at the time.

This soldier agreed to give evidence to the new Bloody Sunday Inquiry under Lord Saville. ITN and Lena Ferguson handed over all material relating to his broadcast interview.

A third soldier said he would resign his English citizenship if the British government apologised for the events of Bloody Sunday.

This soldier agreed to give evidence to the new Bloody Sunday Inquiry under Lord Saville. ITN and Lena Ferguson handed over all material relating to his broadcast interview.

Report 5: 12 January 1998

Channel Four News had analysed tape recordings made by an Italian journalist, Fulvio Grimaldi, present at Bloody Sunday. An army ballistics expert with many years' experience listens to the tapes in a sound laboratory. He concludes the tape shows that shots were fired at soldiers from an automatic pistol, and that at least one army sniper fired controlled shots at the crowd.

Report 6: 19 January 1998

Channel Four News has in interviewed Colonel Derek Wilford, who commanded the Parachute Regiment sent into the Bogside in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday.

He says it is possible that shots fired from the city walls could have been mistaken for shots fired by the IRA.

He says it would be wrong for the British government to apologise and warns them not to do so.

Report 7: 28 January 1998

The army officer who put out the official statement after Bloody Sunday admits it was wrong. Maurice Tugwell admits it was incorrect to say that 4 of the 13 shot dead were wanted by the security forces.

He also says 'there is no reason to suppose that all those casualties in hospital was a result of the Parachute Battalion's operation. There were a considerable number of engagements between snipers and soldiers of two other regiments who were on the periphery of the Bogside at about the same time'.

Report 8: 29 January 1998

Tony Blair announces a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

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