AP front 1 - 2022

24 May 2001 Edition

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Bloody Sunday Inquiry - The MoD fix is in


One way or another, the British security services, none more so than the MoD, are determined to bring down the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. The latest tactic, which has evolved over the course of the past two weeks or so, has crystalized around the proposed use of intelligence material gathered on something like 1,200 witnesses to the inquiry. Lawyers acting for the British soldiers are hoping to use such information to attempt to discredit witnesses in their continuing efforts to shift attention away from the British Army's actions on the day.

In defending his clients' demand for the use of intelligence summaries, David Lloyd-Jones claimed to the Inquiry last week that the public ``would be astonished to be told that the fact that a witness who alleges that soldiers were guilty of murder is himself a member of the IRA is `peripheral information' which is not relevant to this inquiry''.

Responding to this claim, Lord Saville pointed out that information contained in uncorroborated summaries provided by the intelligence services; ``does not establish the fact that a person is a member of the IRA. It is a piece of paper which says this''.

Essentially, lawyers acting for many of the British soldiers and for the RUC, David Lloyd-Jones and Philip Sales, want to force the Inquiry to accept ``summaries'' provided by British intelligence containing uncorroborated information - much of it provided by informers - on witnesses, supposedly gleaned from MI5 and other security files - in some cases spanning 30 years. Apart from any alleged membership of the IRA, other political activities such as taking part in anti-internment marches, applying for a prison visit or attending the Bloody Sunday commemorations will be used against individuals giving evidence to the inquiry. The lawyers argue that such summaries are necessary because a full examination of security files would take too long and in any case would lead to the use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates by the British government.

The lawyers clearly hope to position themselves and their clients in a win-win situation - which for them means an end to the investigation, not only of the British Army but also of those who gave the orders to shoot civilians. If the summaries are accepted by the inquiry, many witnesses will refuse to give evidence - as five members of the Official IRA who were due to give evidence have already done - thus undermining the Inquiry's work, possibly fatally. Alternatively, if the summaries are not accepted, but the use of intelligence information is, and the relevant security files have to be submitted, the resulting ``trawl'' through them, as one lawyer put it, added to the tried and tested means of government obfuscation, the use of PII Certificates - which would undoubtedly be issued in reams when lawyers of the victims' families request access to the files - will succeed in sinking the Inquiry, again fatally, under the sheer weight of paperwork and by the prospect of it dragging on for year after year. The only way to ensure the continuation of the inquiry would be to rule out the use of such material altogether.

In a scathing article in Wednesday's Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor called the proposed summaries ``self-serving'' and commented that by insisting that intelligence information be used - but only in a form acceptable to them and which cannot be tested and so threatens the continuation of the inquiry - the security services and their lawyers `` want to have their cake and eat it''; something, he said, which ``comes close to the tactics of blackmail.

``The Bloody Sunday inquiry does not need these intelligence reports,'' he continued. ``It has plenty of contemporaneous army documents, plenty of witnesses. Saville must not allow the organs of the security state to present one-sided, uncheckable assertions which will only further cloud the truth.''

These latest manoeuverings and the continued determination of the British cabinet to look the other way while the Inquiry it set up is systematically sabotaged by its own Ministry, have served to prove Bernadette McAliskey's testimony last week, when she said that the inquiry ``should be held somewhere else, where the accused is not running the party - No inquiry established, funded and controlled by such a powerful, vindictive, ruthless and experienced perpetrator of terror as the British state can reasonably be expected to bring in an honorable verdict of `Guilty as Charged' against that state.

``Three thousand and more coffins followed,'' she said ``And years of imprisonment, and torture, and pain and sorrow followed. I cannot forgive the British government for that. And this public inquiry cannot sort that out.''

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