The first investigation, conducted by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, within months of the shootings, concluded that the firing of guns by some of the paratroopers involved had "bordered on the reckless".
The relatives of the dead, who yesterday staged a silent march to the opening hearing, hope that the new inquiry, headed by Lord Saville of Newdigate, will produce a more critical verdict than Widgery.
The new inquiry was announced earlier this year by Tony Blair following a lengthy campaign by the victims' relatives, human rights groups and the Irish government. Mr Blair said then: "The aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day, so far as that can be achieved at 26 years' distance."
In his opening statement, Lord Saville said he that and his two colleagues, New Zealander Sir Edward Somers and Mr Justice William Hoyt, a Canadian, would perform their duty with fairness, thoroughness and impartiality.
Mindful perhaps of accusations that in 1972 the then Conservative government had heavily influenced the course of the Widgery inquiry, he said: "I should make it clear that in no shape, manner or form has the Government sought ... to suggest how we should conduct the inquiry or indicated what conclusions it would like us to reach."
Lord Saville said the tribunal had decided not to ask the Attorney-General to grant blanket immunity from prosecution to witnesses. He said it would look again at this question during their proceedings, when it should emerge whether the granting of immunity in some cases might be necessary.
He added that the object was to "try and find out what happened on Bloody Sunday" and that immunity could be considered in certain cases if it brought the inquiry closer to the truth.
The Law Lord said it would be foolish to ignore allegations that some of those concerned in the events of Bloody Sunday were guilty of very serious offences, including murder, adding: "Whether there is substance in those allegations remains of course to be seen."
Following the formal opening of the tribunal, the three jurists visited the scene of thekillings, not far from the Guildhall. It is believed the inquiry will start taking formal statements in the autumn, followed by hearings which could last 12 months.
Later, Sinn Fein chairman Mitchell McLaughlin said the relatives and others wanted to know how committed the Government was to bringing out the entire truth. He added: "I think the silence with which the opening statement by the tribunal chairman was met is very significant. Basically, people were burnt once and they are not going to be burnt again."Reuse content