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9 May 2002 Edition

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Paisley testifies at last


Ian Paisley arrived at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry on Wednesday morning, after Lord Saville had threatened him with contempt proceedings if he refused to attend. He denounced his summons as an "act of political discrimination" and launched into a furious tirade against the Tribunal saying: "It has been widely spread by this Tribunal that the Democratic Unionist people organised a parade then they got assurances that the [civil rights] parade would be stopped by force by authorities... and I was supposed to be at the back of it."

He had ignored a summons to appear on Tuesday morning to answer questions on why a counter-demonstration organised by the Democratic Unionist Association in Derry for 30 January 1972 was called off shortly before the civil rights march. There has always been a strong suspicion that DUA was tipped off by the security forces that the army was likely to open fire on demonstrators.

Paisley claimed that his parliamentary duties had prevented him attending the Inquiry, duties which were described by his son, Ian Paisley Jnr, as "more credible". On Tuesday, the Inquiry heard a letter from his legal representatives, McBurney & Co, which said that Paisley's "attendance is entirely unnecessary and inappropriate, given that he has responded to the queries posed with the dossier of documentation supplied".

In truth, Mr Paisley has provided a one-paragraph statement claiming that he has no recollection of the sequence of events which led to the counter-demonstration being cancelled. This apparent attack of amnesia is in stark contrast to his ability to recall every detail, real or imagined, of every act, real or imagined, of every IRA member, real or imagined, over the last 35 years.

His lawyers also tried to claim that there was an agreement between Paisley and the Inquiry that his parliamentary duties would be given precedence over his attendance before the Tribunal. Lord Saville dismissed the claims, saying that that it was "wholly apparent that no such agreement was ever made".

He continued; "The Inquiry made repeated efforts to fit in with the convenience of Dr Paisley - those efforts proved to be in vain. Mr McBurney made it quite clear that Dr Paisley regarded parliamentary business of far greater importance than attending at this Inquiry. However, the strong impression given to this Tribunal is that Dr Paisley has given this Tribunal the run-around with regard to his attendance here. In those circumstances, we have come to the conclusion that we will certify Dr Paisley for contempt if he does not appear here by 9.30 tomorrow morning."

During his appearance on Wednesday, Mr Paisley continued to insist that he was not involved in the organisation of the DUA demonstration and that he only knew about it from press reports.

In other developments, two Channel 4 journalists have continued to defy the Inquiry which has ordered them to reveal the identities of four British soldiers who were interviewed for a series of programmes to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Lord Saville has insisted that the need to discover the truth about the event overrides any promises regarding journalistic confidentiality.

On Friday 3 May, Lena Ferguson was recalled to the witness stand and asked to write down the identities of the soldiers, known as A, C, D and E. She declined, saying: " I am afraid I do not feel I can do that because I made an agreement to those soldiers that I would not reveal their identity and I really do not want to be persuaded to change that agreement I had with them."

Ferguson also refused to supply complete copies of her notes of interviews and telephone conversations with the men.

Her colleague, Alexander Thompson, also refused similar requests from counsel to the inquiry, saying that in both his and Ferguson's integrity "as journalists and as human beings" was at stake.

"In order to do what you are suggesting I would have to very publicly declare myself as a person who makes a promise then breaks it, a person who ultimately cannot be trusted, both as a human being and as a journalist," he said. "That is an impossible position to be put into. There is a clear principle which needs defending there, a principle which extends not just to Channel 4 News, but to investigative journalism and its future as a whole and if that principle needs to be defended by ultimately serving a prison sentence or whatever is required, then that is going to have to be done."

Screening ruling slammed

Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin has slammed the decision by the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday to allow 20 RUC officers to give evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry from behind screens.

"This decision is allegedly based on security assessments that these officers face some unspecified threat," he said. "That is simply not credible. The same men who are seeking to give evidence from behind screens have had no qualms in giving evidence in open court, in numerous high profile cases, throughout the course of the last 30 years.

"This ruling has nothing to do with the manufactured threats produced by Special Branch and their allies in the British intelligence services and everything to do with the British MoD's continuing campaign to undermine the Inquiry.

"It has got to the stage where people in Derry are now asking if this is part of a strategy designed to provoke the families and their supporters into walking away from the entire process."

Combat 18 threat to relatives

Relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday fear they will be attacked by members of Combat 18 when the Saville Inquiry switches to London's Central Hall at Westminster in September. There are also fears that ex-British Army paratroopers, incensed over the probe into the events of 30 January 1972, may also attempt to disrupt proceedings.

Relatives of the dead and those wounded on Bloody Sunday have raised the issue of their personal security with the Secretary to the Saville Inquiry, Adrian Shaw. The neo-fascist Combat 18 has a history of attacking the annual Bloody Sunday commemoration in London.

Two men, Andrew Frain and Stephen Marriner, notorious for their involvement in British football hooliganism and who were jailed for six and seven years in 2000, had planned to attack that year's march in London. The plan was thwarted when English police arrested the pair. Last year, right wing extremists petrol bombed the Manchester set of Jimmy McGovern's film about Bloody Sunday.

Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was shot and killed on Bloody Sunday, said that many families had legitimate concerns about their personal security when attending the London hearings. "There is a latent belligerence towards us, particularly from the right wing", he said.

The relatives will meet with the Inquiry Secretary regularly to finalise details of arrangements ahead of the relocation.

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