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30 November 2000 Edition

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Gardaí withheld Bloody Sunday evidence for 25 years

A tape of the bugged conversations in Victoria and Ballykelly Barracks, at the time of Bloody Sunday, was suddenly ``found'' by the Garda Síochána, ten days ago, (Sunday 19 November), 25 years after it had been taken on a raid from Sinn Féin Councillor Jim Ferry's house in 1975.

On Sunday evening (19 November) Detective Leheney came to Jim Ferry's door and announced that the Gardaí in Buncrana had `discovered' the tape in the barracks. He made an appointment for the superintendant, John McGinley, to visit Jim Ferry later that evening with the tape.

Superintendant McGinley duly arrived, with the tape, in a brown envelope. They played a small section of the tape, enough for Jim Ferry to confirm that it was the tape that originally had been taken from his home. McGinley, by way of explanation, said that it had been overlooked, in the barracks, amongst a number of other tapes in their possession. I was put in charge of finding the tape, he said. If it hadn't have turned up, then where were we? he said to Jim Ferry.

McGinley then further explained that the tape had to be sent to Garda GHQ, ``because of legal process'', and would be returned to Councillor Ferry, or the solicitors for the relatives, in due course. He wrote out a statement to this effect, which he, accompanying Garda officer Leheney and Jim Ferry signed. The tape was then removed for the second time.

The tape had originally been taken, by Sergeant Pat Cronan, in a search on Jim Ferry's house in 1975, conducted by Sgt. Screena of the Buncrana Special Branch. Jim had been arrested and when he was released some five years later, Jim Ferry asked Sgt. Screena to return the tape. Screena replied that he didn't know if he (Jim) would get it back. He didn't.

Later Jim Ferry met with Sgt. Pat Cronan in the town. Councillor Ferry pointed out that the failure of the Gardaí to return the tape amounted to theft and that he was considering legal action for the return of the tape. ``Sgt. Cronan went red,'' Councillor Ferry recalls, ``but still the tape was not returned.''

Only on Sunday (19 November), after a part of the bugged interview had been taken in evidence by the Saville Inquiry, did the Gardaí see fit to `find' the tape in their possession.

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