29 January 2004 Edition

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Saville Tribunal nears final witnesses

BY FERN LANE

As the Cory report into the dark workings of the British security forces languishes, hidden from public scrutiny by a British Government clearly fearful of its contents, many thousands of people will march through Derry this weekend to demand that so far as Bloody Sunday is concerned, the British state must, at last, come clean and acknowledge the part it played in the events leading up to, and including, 30 January 1972.

Those thousands will be marching as the Saville Tribunal, six years after it was first established. By the time that last witness appears before Lord Saville on 13 February, the families of the dead and wounded will between them have sat through some 430 days of hearings (including a 12-week opening statement from the Inquiry's own counsel) and 900 witnesses.

Then, in October this year, after having heard the closing statements and submissions from the various legal representatives, Lord Saville and his colleagues will begin the task of producing their report. Most importantly for the families, for the people of Derry and, actually, for the process of reconciliation in general, they will have to untangle the web of deceit perpetrated, even to this day, by the British Army and its political masters. They need to ensure that the British state is not protected in its wrongdoing, as Lord Hutton has protected the Blair government in recent days, and so prolong the grieving process even further.

But, come 13 February, at least part of the ordeal will be over for the relatives. Because, although it is what they desperately wanted for so many years, the oral hearings must at times have been almost unbearably painful. They have had to listen to the British establishment and its minions dissemble and obfuscate and try to blacken the names of those who died. They have been dragged to London, where they have had to sit just feet away from those who murdered their loved ones and remain calm, as they have had to remain calm in the face of indifferent and arrogant senior army officers and British officials. They have had to tolerate the right wing of the British media using the inquiry to make political capital for its associates within unionism, particularly its anti-Good Friday Agreement element, and they have had to bear the weight of political hostility emanating from all shades of Unionism.

In listening to the accounts of civilian eyewitnesses, they have had to relive, over and over again, the shootings carried out by 1 Para. Difficult and painful memories have been evoked day after day after day. This week, for example, relatives have heard one witness, Margot Harkin, describe smirking British soldiers, another soldier standing without fear in the open "nakedly firing up" in Glenfada Park. They heard her tell of her dismay as she watched the bodies of some of the dead - their loved ones - being treated like "carcasses" as they were thrown into the back of vehicles and how she believed that one of them may even have still been alive as other bodies were thrown on top of him.

They have had to deal, again, with counsels for the soldiers trying to deflect the responsibility their clients bear for what happened onto others, picking over and over again at irrelevant details and constantly talking about the IRA. Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was murdered on Bloody Sunday, was subjected to this line of questioning on Tuesday. He, like every other family member, remained composed. "The IRA did not murder my brother," he said; "whether there was a dozen or no IRA men in Glenfada Park had no bearing on the death of my brother."


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