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2 May 2002 Edition

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Reporters pressed to unmask Bloody Sunday soldiers

BY FERN LANE


Lawyers acting for both the Bloody Sunday victims‚ families and for the former British soldiers are to press Lord Saville to order two Channel 4 News journalists to disclose the identities of a number of soldiers who provided them with accounts of the killings. The two, Alex Thompson and Lena Ferguson, could face prosecution if they continue to refuse.

Ferguson, who appeared before the tribunal on Tuesday, said that to reveal her sources could "seriously inhibit my ability to continue working in Northern Ireland and I believe it could have serious ramifications for my personal safety".

The Saville tribunal originally considered whether or not to issue an order compelling Thompson and Ferguson to hand over the complete television footage and notes in their possession in October 1999. It decided against it in the hope that either the soldiers would voluntarily come forward, or that it would be possible to identify them through other military witnesses. Despite the fact that, under another ruling by the tribunal they would be able to claim anonymity if they were called to give evidence, only one of the soldiers involved in the Channel 4 reports has volunteered to be identified; it has remained impossible to identify the remaining men by other means.

The soldiers involved - not members of the Parachute Regiment - told Channel 4 News in a series of reports on Bloody Sunday broadcast to coincide with the 25th anniversary, that shots had been fired at the crowd from the walls of Derry city. One, known as Witness A, a former member of the Royal Anglian Regiment, told the programme that he formed part of a 14-man platoon positioned on the walls and that he was aware that a sniper from the same regiment was positioned in a nearby derelict house. He also said that he thought that there had been firing by the "11th Battery who were positioned on the city wall. 11th Battery were partly made up of Fijians who were big guys, princes, who had a thing about honour and testosterone."

Soldier B, who has agreed to be identified to the tribunal, said that in the words of Christopher Clarke, Counsel for the tribunal, "for 15 minutes on Bloody Sunday - there were a number of unfortunate actions and shameful and disgraceful acts and that that there were unjustified shootings".

Soldier C, described as a marksman with the 22nd Light Air Defence Regiment, who appeared in the report on 16 May 1997, said that he was not aware of paratroopers being fired upon at any stage but that they fired from the hip in one area. At the end of the programme, he said "a big wrong was done".

Clarke, while acknowledging that without the promise of confidentiality by Channel 4, the soldiers' information may not have been uncovered in the first place, nevertheless argued that without possession of all the footage and notes held by Channel 4, it would be impossible for the tribunal to obtain a full picture of the soldiers' evidence. That evidence could substantially affect the outcome of the inquiry. He also pointed out that there was nothing in British law that provided journalists with a legal guarantee against the disclosure of their sources and that if they led the soldiers to believe that was the case, then they were wrong.

He said: "It is important to emphasise that the need to know the identities of the soldiers in question is not just for the purpose of testing previous evidence given by others or of obtaining new evidence, but in order to obtain the evidence of the individuals themselves.

"Some of what they say goes to the heart of the issues the Tribunal has to resolve. What appears on the Channel 4 news broadcasts is short, tantalisingly incomplete, in parts unclear or unspecific, and unexamined. Without more detail and examination it is of very limited utility, a small and rather soft sound byte of history, but with examination it may transform one's understanding of what had happened."
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