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9 August 2001 Edition

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Bloody Sunday soldiers must return to Derry

BY FERN LANE

The Bloody Sunday Tribunal has ruled that the soldiers who opened fire on civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday, including members of the Parachute Regiment, must give their evidence in the Guildhall.

The Tribunal, under chairman Lord Saville, rejected submissions on behalf of the soldiers that to require them to appear in person before the Tribunal in Derry, rather than in London as they have demanded, would be an infringement of their human rights under the European Convention. The ruling, made on 2 August, is confirmation of a preliminary finding reached in December 1998, when the Tribunal stated: ``We are investigating events which took place in a city a long way from London, events which led to people of that city being killed or wounded through the actions of soldiers who were there in an official capacity. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what occurred on Bloody Sunday, in our view the natural place to hold at least the bulk of the oral hearings is, in these circumstances, where the events in question occurred.''

Lawyers for the soldiers argued that they should be allowed to give their evidence in London on the grounds that there is the threat of ``revenge attacks by terrorists'', there is a ``threat of public disorder'', the Guildhall provides a ``hostile and intimidating environment'', and that the soldiers will be subjected to ``practical prejudice ... in the conduct of the proceedings if they are required to give their evidence in Northern Ireland''.

In its ruling, the Tribunal emphatically rejected all of these arguments, saying that it had ``...no doubt that our preliminary view is correct. We are a tribunal comprised of members from three countries charged with seeking the truth about Bloody Sunday. On that day in a city in Northern Ireland, citizens of the United Kingdom were killed and wounded by British troops. The events of that day, though of great national and international concern, have undoubtedly had their most serious and lasting effects on the people of that city. It is there that the grief and outrage that the events occasioned are centred. It seems to us that the chances of this Inquiry restoring public confidence in general and that of the people most affected in particular (which is the object of public inquiries of this kind) would be very seriously diminished (if not destroyed) by holding the Inquiry or a major part of the Inquiry far away and across the Irish Sea, unless there were compelling reasons to do so. It is for similar reasons that public inquiries generally are held in or near to the place where the events to be investigated occurred.''

Despite the strong wording of the ruling, however, the MoD's lawyers are expected to challenge it, possibly by applying for a judicial review. They have already succeeded in overturning a previous ruling by the Tribunal in order to claim anonymity for soldiers giving evidence. Further political interference is also under way, with British Conservative MP for Aldershot, Gerald Howarth, alleging that the assurances in respect of the safety of the soldiers were ``not a 100% guarantee''. He also added to the MoD slur against the families, asking ``What happens to these people once they have been photographed and then they return to the UK?'' A former Parachute Regiment commander, Lieutenant General Sir Napier Crookenden, has also weighed in, calling the ruling ``disgraceful'' and claiming it would endanger lives.

John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed, said the families were pleased with the decision. ``The families believe it's a right and justifiable ruling,'' he said. ``For lawyers to argue there would be a threat to life is complete and utter rubbish. We have always said witnesses, including soldiers, should come without fear or threat.''
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