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1 May 2003 Edition

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Questions for security agents must be 'vetted'

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry



BY FERN LANE


Attempts by the British Ministry of Defence to thwart the Bloody Sunday Inquiry were continuing this week, as lawyers acting for the Bloody Sunday families were required to submit synopses of the questions they want to put to those members of the British security services who will be appearing before the inquiry over the coming weeks. This course of action has been made necessary after a ruling by Lord Saville earlier this month, in which the legal teams were also told that they must provide detailed explanations of their reasons for each question to be asked.

The ruling means that the MoD will in turn be provided with the lists of questions and given the right to object to any questions to be put in advance of the witnesses appearing before the inquiry "on human rights or public interest immunity grounds". Those witnesses include the former British agent known as Martin Ingram and a number of former MI5 officers, including David Shayler.

The demand to vet questions came in an application by the British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, supporting the request by Martin Ingram that he be allowed to give evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry from behind a screen. He made that request on the grounds that he "has genuine and reasonable fears as to the potential consequences of disclosure of his personal details and his physical appearance"; fears made worse, he claims, by his "personal circumstances".

Hoon used the supporting application to demand that certain "categories of information" should not be "disclosed" during the questioning of Ingram and other crown forces' agents. Those categories included: (a) "the organisation, chain of command, method of operation, capabilities, training, equipment and techniques of the special units of the armed forces; (b) "the identity and location of the premises of special units of the armed forces; the identities and physical appearance of members and former members of the special units of the armed forces; (c) "any counter-terrorist activities in which Martin Ingram, or any units with which he served, may have been involved, in particular those summarised in the confidential annex to this certificate; (d) "the nature and sources of intelligence information; (e) "any other information which might be useful to terrorist organisations of detrimental to national security".

The criteria is so broad that the MoD could very easily object to almost any questions asked, a matter which has drawn criticism from lawyers representing the families. Those acting for the family of James Wray made a written submission to the inquiry pointing out that, should the MoD's demands be met, it would run counter to the principle of "open justice" and the requirement, under law, that the tribunal's proceedings should be conducted in public.

One former member of the security services, however, who has not been called to give evidence to the inquiry is the agent codenamed 'Infliction', who has made the bizarre claim that Martin McGuinness "precipitated the Bloody Sunday episode" by firing a single shot. Lord Saville ruled in December last year that any attempt to bring Infliction before the inquiry would constitute a breach of his human rights. In his most recent ruling, Saville has said that the inquiry will rely on the evidence of Ingram and others when considering the credibility of Infliction's claims.

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