Bloody Sunday soldiers win the right to stay away from public inquiry

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The Independent Online

Former British soldiers who fear for their safety after being ordered to appear in person at the Bloody Sunday inquiry won a crucial legal challenge yesterday which could lead to their evidence being given by video-link from London.

Former British soldiers who fear for their safety after being ordered to appear in person at the Bloody Sunday inquiry won a crucial legal challenge yesterday which could lead to their evidence being given by video-link from London.

Two High Court judges ruled that the tribunal's original decision requiring Army witnesses to attend the inquiry at Londonderry's Guildhall was "fundamentally flawed". The matter should now be sent back to the inquiry "for reconsideration in the light of the terms of this judgment," the court said.

The former soldiers had argued that by going to Londonderry they were putting themselves at risk from terrorist reprisals for the Bloody Sunday shootings, in which 13 people were killed during a civil rights march on Sunday, 30 January 1972.

Yesterday, Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the tribunal had misdirected itself in law as to the legal test to be applied when assessing the risk to soldier witnesses from terrorist attacks.

Instead of asking whether there was "a real possibility of risk", it had asked whether the soldiers' fears were reasonable – and had concluded, wrongly in the court's view, that they were not. "This misdirection fundamentally flaws the tribunal's decision," Lord Justice Rose said. In their written judgment, the judges said the tribunal had not asked the security agencies if there was a real possibility of risk, and the question of whether the necessary security could be maintained for six months or more was never resolved.

The recent history of events in the province, including the attacks on barracks at Ballykelly and Ebrington, demonstrated that, despite intensive security precautions, terrorist activity put soldiers' lives at risk.

But yesterday relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims said they were appalled by the High Court's decision and claimed the independence of the inquiry was now at risk.

John Kelly, whose brother, 17-year-old Michael, was one of the dead, said he was angered but not surprised. He said: "We have maintained all along that nobody, including soldiers, has anything to fear coming to Derry to give their evidence. This decision must be appealed." Mr Kelly added: "We had the Queen here yesterday. If she was brave enough to come, then there is no reason why the soldiers can't."

The court left open the unlikely possibility of the tribunal coming to the same decision after it had applied the correct test. The judges also gave permission for an appeal.

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