Bloody Sunday forensic report `fatally flawed'

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The Independent Online
A GRIEVOUS blow was inflicted on the credibility of the Widgery report into the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings yesterday when it emerged that its forensic findings apparently cannot be relied on.

This and earlier revelations suggesting the report is not a dependable and trustworthy document mean that the story of the 14 killings by paratroopers in Londonderry will be completely rewritten by the Savile inquiry into the incident.

A review of the forensic evidence has apparently suggested that one of those killed, James Wray, was hit once and possibly twice in the back as he lay on the ground. In another dramatic development, one of the forensic scientists used by Lord Widgery has significantly shifted his conclusions.

The original Widgery report said that none of those killed or injured was proved to have been shot while handling a firearm or a bomb. But it added: "Some are wholly acquitted of complicity in such action, but there is a strong suspicion that some others had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon and that yet others had been closely supporting them."

The phrase "strong suspicion" was in itself a significant dilution of the original official claims, particularly from the army, that all or most of those killed had been actively shooting or throwing bombs at troops.

It nonetheless was taken as an official accusation that those killed had not been innocent civil rights marchers, as nationalists in Londonderry claimed, but had instead been active terrorists.

In the case of one of those killed, James Wray, Widgery reported that two senior forensic scientists concluded "that the results of tests on Wray were consistent with his having used a firearm."

Yesterday, Londonderry solicitor Greg McCartney said that one of the scientists, Dr John Martin, had now told the Savile inquiry team that he not did not stand by his original findings.

Mr McCartney said: "He actually now says that he doesn't know how he came to the conclusion in the first place that James Wray had been handling firearms, because on a review by himself of his own tests at the time he now can't see how he came to that conclusion."

The solicitor, who is acting for the Wray family, said that new examinations carried out by the Savile team had concluded, in relation to James Wray, that "at least one bullet was fired into his back while he was lying on the ground defenceless, and quite possibly a second bullet as well."

Although the hearings before Lord Savile are not due to start until next spring, the tribunal has been active in matters such as reviewing the forensic evidence, and was recently involved in long-running legal battles over whether the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday should be named in court.

Dr Martin is reported to have said that he now believes that the presence of lead on the hands of the deceased did not mean there was a "strong suspicion" that they were exposed to gunfire.

He told the inquiry: "I now believe that where a test proved positive this could have resulted from contamination from other sources such as motor exhausts, which at that time were not fully evaluated."

One of the experts who has reviewed the forensic evidence is said to have concluded that it was "worthless". According to his report: "It is profoundly disturbing that a single particle of lead on a hand swab should have been considered significant evidence that a person had been handling a firearm or been in the vicinity of a discharging firearm."

The Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said yesterday: "These latest revelations surrounding the forensic evidence provide further evidence of the need for the British Government to finally acknowledge the case which it must answer for the tragic events which occurred on Bloody Sunday."

The full tribunal of inquiry will not begin until next March, although there will be a public hearing in Londonderry on 27 September.