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3 February 2000 Edition

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British dirty tricks over Bloody Sunday

BY PADRAIG MacDABHAID

Relatives of those killed by British Paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in 1972 have accused the British Army and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of trying to undermine the Saville Inquiry and thwart the search for truth and justice.

The accusations were made after it was revealed that the MoD destroyed 13 rifles which were fired by British soldiers on that day in 1972. Relatives have been further angered by the news that the weapons were destroyed after the new Saville Inquiry was established in January 1998.

The MoD, during the Saville Inquiry's last oral hearing, which took place in Derry's Guildhall last September, gave a pledge that they had supplied the inquiry with all the material relevant to the atrocity.

It has now been revealed, however, that only five of the 29 rifles that underwent ballistic testing during the Widgery Tribunal are still available. It is also believed that some of the guns still in existence may have had their barrels replaced.

This is not the first time that the MoD has attempted to block the inquiry. It earlier backed a campaign for former British soldiers to remain anonymous when giving evidence.

Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed on Bloody Sunday, reacted angrily: ``What is coming to light, through this revelation and other developments over the last two years, is that those who stand to lose the most from the inquiry, the British Army and the MoD, are involved in every trick in the book to prevent the true facts of Bloody Sunday emerging.''

The solicitor who represents the family of Jim Wray, one of those killed on Bloody Sunday, said: ``Lord Saville has made it clear that he wanted all material relevant to the shootings to be preserved and made available to him, and it is beyond belief that the Ministry of Defence should consider that the rifles fired by soldiers on the day do not fall into that category.

``We have now been robbed of the opportunity to carry out our own tests. Why hold onto these rifles for 26 years and then begin destroying them at a rapid rate as soon as the incident becomes the subject of a new inquiry?

``The families hope that this inquiry will eventually make it possible to bring criminal proceedings against those responsible for the killings, but one of the most crucial pieces of evidence in any murder trial is the murder weapon.''

It was hoped that forensic experts would be able to match bullets and bullet fragments recovered from those killed and injured to specific soldiers, as each rifle was numbered and assigned to a named soldier. The MoD has now cast doubt on this, saying that records have not been ``permanently preserved''. It also said that because the barrels have been changed on some of the surviving guns, ballistics tests would be useless.

A spokesman for the Saville Inquiry said ``From the outset of the inquiry, we have asked for the disclosure of all material relevant to Bloody Sunday. It is reasonable to expect that, as a matter of principle, material connected to the events of Bloody Sunday should not be destroyed.''
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