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14 October 2004 Edition

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Saville Report delay threat

BY LAURA FRIEL

British soldiers involved in the killing of 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 are threatening to take the Saville Inquiry to court, it emerged this week. The action is being viewed as a mechanism to further delay publication of the inquiry report and could lead to a watering down of the findings.

It is expected that the tribunal will make findings against certain British soldiers, even if the findings cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Lawyers acting for the soldiers involved failed to convince the inquiry team that the criminal standard of proof should be applied to the tribunal.

Head of the inquiry, British Lord Saville, said that the tribunal was not a court and does not convict anyone. The inquiry's duty was to investigate what happened and report the findings.

But having lost the argument with the Saville Inquiry, barristers acting on the soldiers' behalf are expected to take the tribunal to court. Court action would delay the report, which is due to be drawn up by the presiding judges, and it may impose limitations that will dilute the tribunal's ability to fully publish its findings.

The Bloody Sunday tribunal began in March 2000 and has taken evidence from 900 witnesses, including leading British politicians and soldiers and members of the RUC.

The threat of legal action follows a ruling that the inquiry does not have to use the criminal standard of proof, for example to find a particular soldier probably shot someone without justification. This would be normal practice for inquiries but the soldiers' lawyers are insisting that Saville must use the criminal standard of proof because of the possible consequences for the British soldiers involved.

This is, of course, total nonsense. If any criminal cases were pursued as a result of the inquiry's findings, any evidence would be then subjected to the rigour of the criminal standards of proof and any convictions based on further scrutiny.

Clearly any pre-emptive strike by the British soldiers involved in the atrocity is designed at the very least to undermine the legitimacy of the inquiry's findings before they are even reached by the presiding judges and at worst, limit the scope of the findings before the report is even written.

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