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5 December 2002 Edition

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Government accused of suppressing documents


The family of Jim Wray, one of the victims of Bloody Sunday, has accused the British government of deliberately suppressing documents concerning Edward Heath, the British prime minister in 1972, because they illuminate Heath's "planning and foreknowledge" of Bloody Sunday.

Heath, who was due to begin giving evidence to the tribunal on Wednesday this week, will not now appear until the New Year, after falling and injuring himself outside Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday.

In a written submission, the Wray family's lawyer, Lord Anthony Gifford, said that the refusal to disclose relevant documents was jeopardising the work of the inquiry and suggested that the contents are potentially "embarrassing for he interests of the government". He has asked Lord Saville to call representatives of the Cabinet Office to appear before the inquiry next week to explain.

The missing documents include briefing papers for a meeting between Heath and Brian Faulkner in the days before Bloody Sunday. Cabinet meeting documents in which the plans for the march on 30 January 1972 were discussed are also missing.

Last week, Major General Michael Steel, assistant to General Patrick McLellan on Bloody Sunday, continued to give evidence to the inquiry. He said that, although he knew at the time that General Ford's plan to arrest up to 400 rioters was, by Ford's own admission, "fatally flawed", he did not think to mention that it was, in the words of Arthur Harvey QC, "literally incapable of implementation" during the planning process. Steele said that he had not said anything because "it was not my position to do so", but added that when he and other officers had written the operation order, Ford's figure was not included in it.

He denied Harvey's assertion that what was actually envisaged by those planning Operation Forecast was the rounding up and arrest of marchers as well as rioters.

The inquiry heard that the army operated what was known as the '25-yard rule'; meaning that, as the chances making arrests, or even identifying individual rioters amongst a crowd of bystanders or marchers, were greatly diminished if they were further than 25 yards away from the arresting forces, they should not be pursued once they were 'out of range'. It was suggested to Steele that Support Company of 1 Para completely ignored this rule as they launched their attack, in vehicles, into Rossville Street. Harvey put it to Steele that "a way of effecting arrests by soldiers who are hyped up waiting to go in, seeing their prey disappear in front of their eyes, intermingling with others, is to shoot them". Steele said he could not comment.

The inquiry also heard that Support Company of 1 Para went through Barrier 12 on the orders of their tactical headquarters, who then told Brigade headquarters that they had gone through the grounds of the Presbyterian church. Harvey suggested to General Steele that "it is extraordinary, is it not, that the people who would have sent them through, who would have known they had gone through barrier 12, are telling you that in fact they have gone through the Presbyterian Church to the south side of William Street?"

Steele told the inquiry that throughout the entire incident when, over the course of six minutes a live shot or baton round was fired every two seconds, he had no idea what Support Company were doing. He said that when they did report to him they provided a list in which they said that 15 targets had been engaged.

Harvey pointed out that, as there were 27 people either shot dead or wounded, they hit two people for every target they engaged and asked: "If the suggestion now is that they hit 27 innocent bystanders by mistake, that is an extraordinary military operation by anyone's standards." Steele replied that when he received the list "I had no idea whether they were innocent or not because against each name there was the description of either being a nailbomber or a gunman."

He said he did not accept that the operation had been "an extraordinarily badly executed plan" and denied that "Colonel Wilford had been given a blank cheque to do whatever he liked".

Throughout his evidence, General Steele continued to assert that there were "nailbombers" present and that a "firefight" had taken place on Bloody Sunday.


MoD wants to scapegoat soldiers - Bloody Sunday families


The Bloody Sunday families have submitted a lengthy document to the British and Irish governments detailing their concerns about the conduct of various British government departments in relation to the Saville inquiry.

In the document, which is particularly critical of the British Ministry of Defence, they say that a number of "difficulties and obstacles have been put in the way of the inquiry which have been designed to obstruct it in its duty to establish the truth and restore public confidence."

Specifically, the families view the decisions to grant anonymity to soldiers and others, and the decision to relocate to London, as "part of an incremental strategy employed by the soldiers and their lawyers, of taking judicial reviews in relation to key tribunal decisions in the favourable environs of the English courts in order to dissipate the resolve of the families and wounded to continue with the inquiry and undermine public confidence".

The move to London has caused massive disruption to the families, who now have to contend with constant travel and separation from their families in addition to the strains of the inquiry itself.

The 'threat assessments' on which the decision to grant anonymity was granted "were scurrilous" say the families in their submission to the Irish and British governments. "The suggestion which was implicit in these witnesses' applications to the courts, and which the courts readily accepted, is that the families are still part of a suspect community."

In the document, the families say that the MoD "has been instrumental in attempts to frustrate the inquiry getting to the truth.

"Not one of the well over 1,000 photographs taken on Bloody Sunday which were given to the army legal team at the Widgery inquiry has been produced to the Saville inquiry. Unsurprisingly, not one of the former employees of the Widgery tribunal or of the army legal team was able to shed light on this mystery when they appeared before the tribunal here in London."

They are also particularly angry at the destruction of army rifles used on Bloody Sunday and the non-production of crucial cine film and hele-tele footage, commenting that "No one seems to know how these incidents occurred".

"In our view, the MoD have treated the inquiry with contempt," they say. "The soldiers who committed murder on our streets in 1972 were not individual soldiers acting on their own initiative. They were acting under orders, employed by the MoD, yet they are not represented by it. There is a clear strategy being employed to brand a small number of soldiers as scapegoats while the British government is not held accountable or properly scrutinised."

The families are also highly critical of the decisions to grant Public Interest Immunity certificates on certain material. "These are political decisions being taken by faceless persons within government departments to suppress important evidence," they say.

However, they believe that the most significant evidence to the Saville inquiry thus far has been that of General Robert Ford and his admission that his plan for a mass arrest operation on Bloody Sunday was "fatally flawed". The families say that during his evidence to the Saville inquiry, his plan was exposed as "nothing more than a full frontal assault on peaceful civil rights demonstrators".

The families are pressing the Dublin government to support them and to exert whatever political pressure it can on British government agencies in both the Six Counties and in Britain so that their concerns can be properly addressed.



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