`Bloody Sunday' paras to keep anonymity

RELATIVES OF people killed on Bloody Sunday accused Tony Blair of betrayal after the Government pledged its support for moves to protect the anonymity of paratroopers due to appear before a new tribunal of inquiry.

The families said the independence of the inquiry had been compromised by the decision to fund the soldier's legal fight.

"This smacks of interference and control," said Greg McCartney, a solicitor acting for the family of James Wray, one of the 14 civilians shot dead by paratroopers on the streets of Londonderry in 1972.

"Tony Blair promised us this inquiry would be independent but the current campaign can serve only to undermine its credibility. It bears all the hallmarks of a complete betrayal."

Government backing for the soldiers came after George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, told the Cabinet he was concerned for the safety of 17 men who fear they could become targets for the IRA if identified at the inquiry, led by Lord Saville of Newdigate.

But relatives of those killed claimed the soldiers were in no real danger and accused them of trying to frustrate the inquiry. "During the recent anonymity hearings it emerged that the security forces have now revised the threat to soldiers as only moderate," said Mr McCartney.

"What's more, the commanders of the paratroopers on Bloody Sunday are well known and they can't produce a shred of evidence that they have ever been threatened or attacked.

"The relatives are now deeply concerned that what they were promised by Tony Blair is not what they are getting. I would go further and say this is a tactic to try and force the families out and force the resignation of the inquiry.

"Clearly the paratroopers, with the support of the British government, are looking to frustrate and ultimately collapse the inquiry."

The Government's intervention came amid a political and media campaign to overturn the ruling not to allow blanket anonymity for security force members giving evidence to the inquiry, due to open on 27 September.

Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford, who commanded the Paras on Bloody Sunday, said he would go to jail if his men were named. He threatened to refuse to attend the hearing in protest, which could lead to him being charged with contempt of court. Following his comments, government sources confirmed that Mr Robertson was "sympathetic" to the concerns of the former soldiers.

Andrew Mackay, the Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman, said: "This climbdown ... has only happened because of our campaign and the public outcry."

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