Bloody Sunday claims disputed

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The Independent Online
A FORMER British Army commander said yesterday that forensic science reports rebutting evidence from the original Bloody Sunday inquiry was part of "a public relations exercise" to discredit the soldiers involved.

Fourteen people were killed in Londonderry on 30 January 1972, when troops, mostly from The Parachute Regiment, opened fire on an illegal civil rights demonstration. The original investigation done soon after the incident found that at least some of the demonstrators killed had recently handled weapons or explosives.

Reports submitted to the fresh inquiry into the shootings, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, cast serious doubts on this original evidence. They also suggest that at least one of those killed had been on the ground at the time and was shot at close range.

But General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, who was in command of British forces in Northern Ireland until just before Bloody Sunday, said that the findings were part of a conspiracy to portray the soldiers involved as murderers.

"It is all part of a long- running public relations exercise to work public opinion up in favour of saying that the soldiers were all murderers and nothing was done wrong by the people on the other side," he said. "It is piecemeal evidence and should await full examination in relation to all the other evidence."

Sir Anthony added: "I am sure that the Army and Ministry of Defence will not attempt to fudge any of the evidence and will not attempt to hold anything back, but the whole matter is extremely contentious, and will require a most careful appraisal with full examination in light of the public view, so that we will have a properly conducted commission of inquiry and a properly conducted conclusion." He also attacked the leaks as being damaging to the process of the inquiry.

But Michael McKinney, chairman of the Bloody Sunday campaign, said that in the past there had been a public relations campaign run in favour of the soldiers. "There is a lot of evidence out there and it will continue coming out," he added.

The findings of the original inquiry, conducted by Lord Chief Justice Widgery, included forensic evidence that several of those shot dead during the disturbances had handled weapons. But Dr John Martin, who compiled that evidence, has now stated that it could be open to other interpretation.

One report to the Saville Inquiry has dismissed the original evidence as "worthless" and "profoundly disturbing".