Leading Article: An unjust decision by the High Court

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The Independent Culture
THE HIGH Court reached a split verdict yesterday, deciding by two to one that the ex-soldiers called to give evidence to the inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings of civil rights marchers in 1972 in Londonderry - or Derry - should be allowed to remain anonymous. It was a finely balanced decision, but the balance should have been tipped the other way. On the one hand, the ex-soldiers and their families fear reprisals by terrorists seeking to avenge the shootings in Northern Ireland 27 years ago. That threat is real, but it is small, not just because most republican terrorists are on ceasefire, but because if the IRA had wanted to find out their names it could have done so. After all, the names of the senior officers have always been public.

Against that fear, awful though it is, must be set the greater cause of demonstrating that the British Army in particular, and the British authorities in general, are prepared to be open and even-handed in dealing with the injustices of the past. In any other investigation of this kind, civilians, police officers or candlestick-makers would be named. The only circumstances in which anonymity should be allowed are those in which there is an immediate threat to life, or where undercover work is involved.

The Bloody Sunday killings were appalling. The sense of grievance on behalf of the 14 unarmed civilians gunned down was a powerful animator of republican terrorism. But those deaths were the product of fear and confusion on the side of the Paras, as well as of culpable prejudice against the Roman Catholic population. The precise mixture of confusion and culpability does matter. Facing the truth with open eyes is the best way to effect reconciliation and remove the causes of terrorism. Keeping the names secret makes it look as though the Army has something to hide. The High Court judges should have ruled two to one the other way.