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18 June 1998 Edition

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Bloody Sunday - Widgery Mark II?

By Ned Kelly

Relatives of the people murdered by British paras on Bloody Sunday in Derry have expressed concern that the `independent' judicial inquiry headed by Lord Saville will go the same way as the now discredited Widgery Inquiry.

Peter Madden of Belfast solicitors Madden & Finucane, who is heading the relatives' legal team, said the families ``will not take part in the inquiry'' unless their fears are resolved.

These fears centre on a belief that behind the scenes machinations of the British-led `independent' inquiry will:-

Limit the legal resources available to relatives. It is believed that the inquiry team will agree to only one senior counsel, one junior barrister and one firm of solicitors to represent the families of the dead and wounded.
Not enforce full disclosure of government documents.
Narrow the scope of the inquiry to events on Sunday 30 January 1972.
Limit the number of expert witnesses. Restricting the number of independent ballistics experts and pathologists will undermine attempts to challenge the British version of events.
Speaking to An Phoblacht Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed 26 years ago, said, ``at this stage the government has not been completely forthcoming about resources. If this sets the scene, the imbalance in resources will limit what the victims' families can do.''

Doherty stressed that ``the British cannot seek to represent both sides and unless this is addressed the whole exercise will be useless and can only produce unbalanced findings.''

Restrictions on the legal resources available to the families may lead to a situation similar to that during the Widgery inquiry when a tiny legal team had to battle against the resources of the Ministry of Defence and British civil service.

Released documents should include minutes from Cabinet meetings on the Tuesday or Wednesday prior to Bloody Sunday.

Fears have also been raised that incomplete disclosure may deny the families access to medical reports, especially on Bernard McGuigan, which could support the theory that illegal dum-dum bullets were used by the paras. Dr Raymond McClean, who took notes on the post-mortems on the eve of Bloody Sunday, said ``it is ridiculous not to have independent expert witnesses.'' He added that ``top grade'' ballistics experts and pathologists were needed to interpret the complex forensic evidence.

Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said it was vital that families must be ``able to employ qualified opinion to scrutinise thoroughly forensic material. It is unrealistic to expect the families to be able to effectively participate in the inquiry on the same basis as those who have the full backing of the British state.''

McLaughlin added that attempts by the British government to minimise the scope of the inquiry would not only prolong the distress of the families but also undermine confidence that it was serious about genuine reconciliation.
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