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11 April 2002 Edition

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Bloody Sunday challenge to Carswell

Lawyers acting on behalf of the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday will object to Chief Judge Robert Carswell sitting in an Appeal court hearing scheduled for next week.

The hearing, which is due to take place in Belfast on 15 April, relates to the screening of RUC witnesses. Lawyers for the families are seeking to overturn a decision by the Saville Inquiry to allow 19 RUC officers to testify from behind wooden screens.

The appeal, lodged on behalf of Mary Doherty, the sister of teenager Gerard Donaghy, killed on Bloody Sunday, opened in March before Judges Carswell and McCollum.

But before an objection could be lodged, the hearing was mysteriously adjourned just minutes into the proceedings on the grounds that the court lists had "overtaken" the case and that "practical difficulties" had arisen.

Since then, repeated requests from the relative's solicitors Madden and Finucane for details of the difficulties which have prevented the hearing to take place have been denied.

Court officials have also refused to confirm whether or not Judge Carswell will be presiding again during the scheduled hearing next week. In a written reply, the Appeals and Lists Office declared only that it is "not in a position to comment" but following further inquiries was unable to specify why it was unable to comment.

Lawyers claim that Carswell's impartiality has been compromised by the fact that he appeared as a barrister for the NIO's Ministry of Home Affairs at the 1973 inquest into the Bloody Sunday deaths.

Documents released to the Saville Inquiry have further exposed Carwell's untenable position. In his written record of the 1973 inquest, Carswell seeks to marginalise Derry coroner Hubert O'Neill by suggesting he is unduly sympathetic to the bereaved families.

Carswell objects to O'Neill's characterisation of the killings as "sheer unadulterated murder" and urges disciplinary action following O'Neill's "most reprehensible and wilful outburst".

O'Neill's remark, writes Carswell, undermined "a considerable amount of painstaking preparation in order to play the inquests in the lowest key possible".

McPhilemy award upheld

Journalist and filmmaker Sean McPhilemy won another legal battle with the British Sunday Times last week when leave to appeal against the costs awarded to McPhilemy was denied by the courts.

McPhilemy was awarded costs following a successful libel action against the Sunday Times in March 2000. The action arose after the newspaper made allegations against a television documentary on collusion "The Committee" which was screened in 1991.

Presiding Judge Seager Berry rejected the Sunday Times' request on all six grounds cited by the newspaper. Describing McPhilemy and his solicitor as "truthful and credible witnesses", Berry ruled that such an appeal held "no real prospect of success".

The Sunday Times has already lost two appeals against the original verdict and an earlier appeal over legal costs.

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