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25 January 2001 Edition

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Civilian witnesses bear brunt of Saville Inquiry

BY FERN LANE

Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign spokesperson John Kelly has spoken of the trauma faced by Derry people testifying before the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Derry's Guildhall. He was participating in a workshop during a series of events held in London on Saturday, 20 January, to commemorate Bloody Sunday.

Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday, talked about the day-to-day difficulties facing those currently giving evidence. ``It has been difficult to see the trauma which people have had to go through on a daily basis. Army solicitors are grilling civilian witnesses, bringing up the IRA all the time, trying to discredit their evidence and to take away their credibility as witnesses. All of the witnesses have been very badly affected - they often break down. The families are sitting there listening to the last moments of their loved ones' lives. The witnesses don't want to let the families down; they want to tell the truth as they remember it. But one gets the impression that the army solicitors don't give a damn, and we see the possibility of another three years of this pain.''

Kelly also argued strongly that the perpetrators of Bloody Sunday be made come to Derry to explain their actions. ``We want the soldiers to give evidence in Derry because that is where it happened. We want them to come to Derry without fear; we don't want anything to happen to them but we do want them to justify the murder of our relatives.''

The London commemoration of Bloody Sunday included a large rally in Caxton House, north London, preceded by workshops exploring a number of issues directly and indirectly related to the events of 1972.

The day began with an insight into the workings of the Saville Inquiry currently taking place in Derry's Guildhall. The workshop was addressed by Jane Winter of British Irish Human Rights Watch, the organisation which has ensured that an observer has been present every day of the inquiry thus far, and by John Kelly, who spoke about how the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign had slowly gained momentum. ``What the paras tried to do that day was to indiscriminately kill people'' he said ``But there was a plan within a plan. The army wanted to draw the IRA out and get into a gun battle with them. But we know for a fact that the IRA was not there... The Widgery tribunal compounded that pain. Even after 20 years the families could not get over Bloody Sunday and the Bloody Sunday Justice Committee came into being. The first thing we did was try and get cross-community support. We then tried to get politicians on board, but many of them told us we were wasting our time.''

In the second workshop on state terrorism, as well as hearing about the work of the Pat Finucane Centre and about the Robert Hamill and Diarmuid O'Neill campaigns, the audience heard from a representative of the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign. Scotsman Harry Stanley was shot dead in the street by the Metropolitan Police in 1998 while carrying a table leg in a plastic bag. A member of the public had telephoned the police from a pub in which Stanley had stopped off to have a drink to say that a man ``with an Irish accent'' and carrying a gun had just left the premises. An armed response unit of the Met, which just happened to be in the immediate vicinity, responded by fatally shooting Stanley, who was suffering from cancer, a few yards away from his home. The police escaped prosecution, or even any disciplinary action, claiming that the acted reasonably in assuming the table leg was a gun. The representative of the campaign also pointed out the continuing scandal of the high level of deaths in police custody in Britain; 1,500 people have died while in police hands over the past ten years.

The main rally was addressed by Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, former POW Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin's Francie Molloy and Alana Burke, who was seriously injured on Bloody Sunday. John McDonnell told the audience that the Irish community in England is still a suspect community: ``For as long as the British are in Ireland we will always be defined as suspect. Irish people are stopped by the police more than any other ethnic group. The Metropolitan Police are specifically targeting Irish pubs and clubs.''

Referring to the peace process, McDonnell said that ``this government will dance to any tune emitted by David Trimble as a result of the crisis in Ulster unionism. How can the First Minister be given the power to suspend the Assembly? We have allowed the government to accede to a unionist veto.''

Former PoW Martina Anderson again reiterated that Bloody Sunday was not an accident: ``The orders executed by the Parachute Regiment were carefully planned by the political and military leadership in Britain and encouraged and supported by the unionist political establishment and the unionist business community. The rationale behind those events was simple. They sought, though the tactics of murder and mayhem, to use Bloody Sunday as the anvil on which to break the spirit of nationalist resistance in Derry, and by extension across the whole of Ireland.

Francie Molloy reminded the audience of the simple demands of the civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday; ``A house, a job and the right to vote; not much in a civil society. The Six-County statelet could not give in to those demands and it still cannot recognise the votes of republicans as equal to those of unionists.

``Tony Blair still protects the guilty. Yes, he set up an inquiry, but will he give up the guilty? We see the cover-ups, the dirty tricks, the informers, the undercover agents all planting their stories without producing the evidence.''

Alana Burke, who as an 18-year-old girl suffered critical injuries when she was shot by a British soldier, spoke about the high hopes with which she had joined the civil rights march on 30 January 1972. But, she said, she ``was to pay dearly for the rest of my life'' for her presence. Not only did she have to cope with her own injuries but also the psychological scars of the sight of ``dead bodies all around me in an ambulance'', something which will haunt her forever.

On Sunday 21 January almost 100 people joined a picket outside Downing Street which was addressed by Francie Molloy. The organisers handed in a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair demanding an end to the obstruction and secrecy of various departments of the government and for the whole truth about Bloody Sunday to finally be made known.
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