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5 September 2002 Edition

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Forensic scientist does u-turn

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry


BY FERN LANE

The forensic scientist who told the Widgery Tribunal in 1972 that at least seven of the Bloody Sunday victims had either fired a gun or had been close to someone using a gun before they were killed, admitted to the Saville Inquiry on Tuesday that he could no longer stand by that claim.

Dr John Martin, a chemist who undertook firearms work as principle scientific officer for the Department of Industrial and Forensic Science, told the inquiry that he now believed "contamination is the major issue" and that his original findings should be seen in that light.

In his statement to the tribunal, Dr Martin said that "when I did the tests and prepared my report for Widgery, I was under the impression that 20 to 30 shots had been fired and that the bodies had been transferred in clean conditions to the mortuary.

"It was only at my cross-examination that I became aware that over 100 shots had been fired, greatly increasing both the overall levels of gunshot residues in the immediate environment and the possibility of fragmentation. In addition, at least some of the bodies had been handled and transported in a way that could have resulted in contamination by gunshot residues.

"This effectively means that unless there is evidence from other sources to indicate an association between any of the deceased and a weapon, then it would be unwise to interpret my findings as other than contamination."

Under questioning by Seamus Treacy, representing some of the families, Dr Martin said he could not recall why he had only received 29 of the British Army rifles used on Bloody Sunday, rather than 31 has he had been led to expect. He said that, although he had not been able to match the bullet recovered from Joseph Mahon with any of the rifles, he had not thought to make further enquiries.

Richard Harvey, representing the family of James Wray, questioned why Dr Martin had not made his doubts about his own testimony clear at the time of Widgery.

He asked Dr Martin whether, given that the family had lived for 30 years with his testimony of 1972, there was "anything you would like to say to that family today about the 30 years that they have had to endure living with that memory".

After protests from Dr Martin's legal representative, supported by Lord Saville, Mr Harvey said: "I fully understand the position taken by Dr Martin's counsel and I understand what you say. The reason we raise it, of course, is because one of the purposes for this Inquiry is to restore the public confidence and the public confidence our families have in this Inquiry is one which cries out for an answer to this particular question, we believe."

Dr Martin denied that he had been subjected to any external pressure in relation to his findings. He also told the inquiry that he did not have any recollection of any of the rifles he examined being broken or damaged despite a statement from one soldier, known as O‚ regarding damage he sustained to his weapon. In his statement, the soldier said: "I actually smashed the plastic stock of my rifle on his head to subdue my prisoner and the plastic stock shattered. This meant that when I later fired my rifle, I had to hold it in a different way and so the first shot was not as accurate as it would otherwise have been."
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