AP front 1 - 2022

17 May 2001 Edition

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Spooks move to discredit Derry witnesses


In another effort to fatally subvert the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the British intelligence services have offered to provide uncorroborated information contained in security files in order to help lawyers acting for British soldiers in an attempt to discredit hundreds of civilian witnesses to the Inquiry.

Details of the offer emerged in a letter written by the Inquiry's solicitor, John Tate, on 9 May to lawyers representing the families of the dead in which he said that discussions had been held ``with the police and other agencies [on] the way in which intelligence information might be provided to the inquiry''. The revelation comes after the British government has repeatedly made use of Public Interest Immunity certificates in order to avoid handing over the files on the events of Bloody Sunday which detail its own military activities in Derry at the time.

As a consequence, the Inquiry has been thrown into its most serious crisis yet. Proceedings were adjourned last Friday when lawyers advised prospective witnesses not to give evidence until the matter has been resolved. They were further advised to obtain individual legal advice, particularly in respect of human rights legislation. A hearing on the matter, originally scheduled for 23 May, will now take place on 17 May.

The specially-prepared briefings by the security services will include uncorroborated accounts of illegal telephone taps, informer information and the monitoring of movements - information which would not be permitted as evidence in a court of law - and the MoD will attempt to discredit witnesses on such grounds that they attended civil rights marches, were present at previous Bloody Sunday commemorations or because they habituated certain pubs.

This new tactic of grubbing around in ancient security files in order to try and uncover some morsel which can be used against witnesses is the latest in a long line of determined efforts by the MoD to ensure that the Bloody Sunday Inquiry will not get at the truth about its own political and military role on 30 January 1972. It resisted the setting up of the Inquiry to begin with, insisted that British Army witnesses should not be named and that they give their evidence away from the Guildhall in Derry; it had littered the Inquiry with endless and highly dubious PII certificates, has concocted evidence against Martin McGuinness and has treated witnesses as though they, rather than it, were guilty of some crime. They have consistently tried nudge the Inquiry into putting the people of Derry in a position where they are compelled to prove their innocence rather than focusing attention squarely where it belongs; on the British Army and those who issued its orders.

Representatives of the families of those killed and injured say they are aghast at this latest ploy to deflect the attention away from the British Army and the MoD and on to the residents of Derry. One family member said: ``It's disgusting. MI5, the RUC and the British Army could just make up anything about perfectly innocent people they don't like the look of. It's hard to believe the Inquiry is even contemplating it.

``There are 500 witnesses going in there who have come forward because we asked them to come forward. We can't ask them to subject themselves to smear tactics based on telephone tapping and toutsâ information.''

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said that some people within the British establishment were ``fighting like rats with their backs against the wall'' to prevent the truth getting out at the Inquiry.

``It clearly suggests there is a very determined attempt by elements of the British establishment to effectively put the focus on the people of Derry. It is almost turning out to be a situation where the investigation that is taking place is more about what the people of Derry were doing, than what the British soldiers were doing on that day when 14 people were murdered.''

An Phoblacht
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