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15 July 1999 Edition

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Bloody Sunday judgment reserved

The High Court in London has reserved judgement on the appeal brought by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry to overturn the decision made last month to grant anonymity to former soldiers who took part in the shootings.

Representing the Inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC told Lord Wolfe, Lord Justice Robert Walker and Lord Justice Tuckey that the previous decision had effectively expropriated the function of the Inquiry and that, in their ruling that Lord Saville had exceeded his powers in refusing blanket anonymity, the appeal court judges had in fact exceeded their own. He also argued that it was essential to hold a public investigation ``from which public confidence will flow'' and that this consideration overrode the concerns of the soldiers.

Judgment was reserved to allow for further consideration of the legal arguments, but a decision is expected next week.

The case was being heard as the families of the Bloody Sunday victims were again forced to initiate legal action for defamation, this time against Colonel Derek Wilford, commander of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, after his extraordinary outburst on Radio 4's Today programme last week. The BBC reported that it had received over a hundred complaints in respect of Colonel Wilford's wild allegations against not only the Bloody Sunday families but every Catholic in the Six Counties, who he effectively claimed are all IRA supporters.

Although Colonel Wilford subsequently issued a partial retraction of his comments, Bloody Sunday campaigners said on Wednesday 14 July that it was not satisfactory and that the families intend to continue with the legal action.

It appeared, too, that Colonel's Wilford's dogged devotion to the British Army was not reciprocated when it officially disowned his comments as ``inaccurate and unhelpful'' , saying that ``anyone in the Army or Parachute Regiment who listened to what he said would have been absolutely dismayed''. One senior officer even went so far as to say that Wilford's role in Ireland had ``engendered in him a certain arrogance, which was the path to catastrophe''. Nevertheless, Wilford did receive support from other quarters when Conservative MP Julian Brazier, a former paratrooper, seemed to endorse Wilford's comments about Michael McKinney, and by extension all the Bloody Sunday Families, representing ``the republican organisation''. He said: ``I don't agree with his comment about Irish Catholics, but apart from that I agree with most of the rest.''

The interview was the culmination of Wilford's increasingly bitter outbursts on the subject of Bloody Sunday, which he blamed for the break-up of his first marriage - when his wife suggested that the shootings were not accidental - and for his estrangement from his eldest son, also a Parachute Regiment commander. It also emerged that Wilford had, up until the live interview on 6 July, effectively been protected by the mainstream media, which had routinely edited out similar remarks he made in previous interviews.
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