Bloody Sunday troops want to give evidence in London

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The Independent Online
THE BLOODY Sunday tribunal in Londonderry yesterday heard conflicting arguments on whether all the soldiers who are to appear before it should be granted anonymity, and be compelled to return to the city to give their evidence.

Counsel for military witnesses said soldiers wanted to give their evidence in London rather than Londonderry when the full public hearings begin next March. This was immediately opposed by counsel for some of the 14 people killed in the 1972 shootings.

The tribunal also heard arguments that the anonymity which has been granted by the courts to the soldiers who fired shots should be extended to all military witnesses. This too was opposed.

Nationalists in Londonderry appear to believe strongly that, on a point of principle, all hearings take place in the city, while the Ministry of Defence contends this could be unsafe.

Lord Gifford QC, representing some of the families of those killed, told the hearing: "I am frankly shocked that it is being suggested that soldiers or ex-soldiers would not have the guts to come to Derry to give their evidence.

"Coming to Derry to give evidence is a matter of a few days and the security services in this part of the United Kingdom have good experience in keeping the peace and protecting people." He said of all the issues being examined during this week's preliminary session, none was more important to the families of the deceased.

Lord Saville, who is heading the tribunal, said it was too soon to make a decision which would depend on circumstances next spring. Accepting that soldiers could seek a judicial review on the matter, he added: "I think the tribunal feels that it is almost inevitable that there is going to be substantial argument on this issue and it is best to leave it until nearly the last moment so we can get the most up-to-date security assessment."

Lord Saville also decided that an assessment of the terrorists' threat against the families of up to 150 soldiers who have died since serving in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday should be carried out. Counsel for military witnesses said the family of one soldier, granted anonymity but now dead, had requested that the anonymity be continued because of their fears for their own safety.

This too was opposed by Lord Gifford. He said the chances of such families being located and identified was "slight in the extreme" and any danger of attack on the families was "fanciful".

t Sinn Fein chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, last night issued an invitation to the Tory leader, William Hague, to meet to discuss the Northern Ireland peace process. Mr McGuinness told a Friends of Ireland fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth that he would welcome the "opening of dialogue" with the Conservative leadership.

He also said supporters of the Good Friday Agreement must do their utmost to convince unionists this was the best chance for a peaceful society. The mid-Ulster MP said: "Those of us, and the two governments, who want this to work must redouble our efforts to convince the pro-Agreement unionists and other waverers.

"This is the best chance we have to create the political institutions and structures required to get us out of conflict and into a new beginning where we can all live together as equals." He said the new society must be one "where each of us can pursue our political goals and aspirations through peaceful and democratic means".

While none of the political institutions in the Agreement had yet been set up, he said, those who backed it must not despair. He praised Prime Minister Tony Blair for rounding on the Tories for not giving their full support to Labour's Northern Ireland policy.