'Error' over IRA documents: Mayhew alters official record of peace negotiations. David McKittrick reports

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THE Government last night claimed that a crucial textual inconsistency in its published record of its secret contacts with the republican movement was due to the mistaken publication of a wrong draft.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, last night altered the text of the official record which he had placed in the House of Commons library. He said a number of transcription and typing errors had come to light and corrections had to be made for the sake of accuracy.

According to government briefings last night, the alterations made no changes to the meaning or emphasis of the documents. But one of the list of 18 changes made by Sir Patrick had the effect of removing a serious and otherwise inexplicable discrepancy in the official record.

The inconsistency had cast doubt on the accuracy of the documents placed in the library. Sinn Fein has claimed that some of the documents produced by the Government are bogus and that key parts of others have been falsified.

A key inconsistency involved an issue that was crucial for both the Government an the republican movement; it was clear that falsified documents had been produced by one side or the other.

The disputed sections are also vital in that the Government's version supports its assertion that dealings took place following an initial IRA message of surrender.

The Government says the IRA message declared: 'The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close.' Republican leaders deny sending such a message.

The two sides had produced different versions of a subsequent communication from the British government. On the face of it, the Government's version confirmed that the IRA had indeed asked for advice while the republican version suggested that advice was sought not by them but by the Government.

Some of the wording supports the accuracy of the Sinn Fein version, and last night's changes mean the Government version now has internal consistency. Sir Patrick said the errors had arisen from the speed of publication.

A policeman was hurt last night in an explosion in a republican area of north Belfast.