Dispute over evidence could halt Bloody Sunday inquiry

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The Independent Online

The prospect that the mammoth Bloody Sunday investigation could be halted unless the issue of disclosing sensitive intelligence documents can be resolved was raised at the inquiry hearing in Londonderry yesterday.

The prospect that the mammoth Bloody Sunday investigation could be halted unless the issue of disclosing sensitive intelligence documents can be resolved was raised at the inquiry hearing in Londonderry yesterday.

The possibility is regarded as conceivable but remote, and would arise only in the event of exceptional circumstances. The issue arises over the possible disclosure of intelligence material from army agents.

The inquiry is considering Public Interest Immunity certificates submitted by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon. They want only the Bloody Sunday tribunal itself to have access to the full and uncensored reports from the agents.

Lawyers at yesterday's tribunal hearing discussed a range of options, touching on the full or partial disclosure of the material and the question of whether lives could be put at risk if it should be revealed.

The evidence is mostly material about two agents who claim that the IRA opened fire first on Bloody Sunday before paratroopers shot dead 14 youths and men.

One of them is also alleged to have claimed that Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein fired the first shot on the day. Portions of documents disclosing the claims have been aired at the inquiry's public hearings but large sections have been deleted and a debriefing tape has not been heard.

The tribunal's three judges are to study the question over the weekend.

Christopher Clarke QC, counsel for the tribunal, said he and most of the other lawyers involved recommended inspecting the documents.

He said: "It is simply impossible to grapple with these questions satisfactorily without doing so - and some of the hypotheses as to what the material may consist of may turn out to be wholly unfounded and the problems associated with the hypotheses vanish as the morning dew before the sun."

Counsel for some of those injured, and for the families of some of those killed, find themselves in unusual agreement with counsel for many of the soldiers involved, in that both are pressing for disclosure.

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