Members of the First Parachute Regiment could face legal action over the killing of 14 Catholic protestors in Londonderry after the Prime Minister announced a fresh inquiry into Bloody Sunday without offering blanket immunity to the soldiers who may be called to give evidence.
"Bloody Sunday was a tragic day for all concerned. We must all wish it had never happened. Our concern now is simply to establish the truth and close this painful chapter once and for all," Tony Blair told the Commons.
George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, last night flew to Northern Ireland to reassure the troops serving in Ulster of the Government's commitment to them, and to ensure that the inquiry does not undermine morale. He earlier confirmed that he had initially opposed the inquiry.
The three-man judicial inquiry is to be headed by a senior Law Lord, Lord Saville of Newdigate, with two judges from Commonwealth countries.
The announcement received a cautious welcome from relatives of those killed, who said they hoped the new inquiry would have the potential to unearth the truth about the episode.
A much warmer welcome came from the retired Catholic bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly. He said: "It was an admirable statement and it is wonderful to hear a British prime minister speak as he did. I hope that this tribunal will at last find the truth of what happened that day."
Another welcome came from the Irish government, which yesterday published a 180-page dossier attacking the conclusions of the Widgery tribunal. This described the judge's findings as "inadequate, inaccurate, unfair, wholly unwarranted and wilfully misleading".
The tribunal will have the power ask the Attorney General, John Morris, to grant immunity to witnesses. However, no blanket immunity is being offered to those involved in the Bloody Sunday killings, although it was called for by a number of Tory MPs and Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman.
Relatives of some of the 14 killed - including one who died five months later from his injuries - may seek civil or criminal action against those involved, unless immunity is granted.
Bloody Sunday - 30 January 1972 - sparked more rioting, including the burning down of the British Embassy in Dublin, and has been written into Irish nationalist folklore.
Mr Blair said the flaws in the Widgery report delivered only 11 weeks after the killings included a failure to take evidence from the wounded who were still in hospital and Lord Widgery did not consider individually all the eye-witness accounts.
The Loyalist Volunteer Force, which has killed five Catholic civilians since Christmas, announced yesterday that it was ceasing its targeting of "ordinary Catholics". However it conspicuously did not say it was ending its violence completely, and in fact hinted at more attacks against "known republicans".Reuse content