Paisley denounces inquiry 'witch hunt'

MP attends after threat of contempt charge
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The Independent Online

The Rev Ian Paisley denounced the Bloody Sunday inquiry yesterday as "a witch hunt of Protestants", after spending four hours in the witness box at the Guildhall in Londonderry.

During his testimony the Democratic Unionist Party leader shed no new light on one of Bloody Sunday's minor mysteries, the question of why his local supporters first arranged and then cancelled a counter-demonstration.

A spokesman for Londonderry DUP said at the time that it had been given assurances by the Northern Ireland government that the civil rights march would be stopped by force if necessary.

As he left the Guildhall, Mr Paisley declared that the inquiry had "become the playground of conspiracy theorists and their fantasies".

He added: "I think it will please nobody and has wasted millions and millions of pounds. The intention to find out the truth about what happened has been set aside and a witch hunt of Protestants is now in my view the target of this tribunal."

On the question of the cancelled counter-demonstration, he gave evidence that he was not involved in the planning of the demonstration and did not know why it was called off.

He said the tribunal should ask the party officer quoted in the press at the time, adding that this man had not been questioned or ordered to give evidence. Counsel to the inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, said every effort was being made to get a statement and evidence from the man.

On Tuesday Mr Paisley was told by the head of the tribunal, Lord Saville of Newdigate, that if he did not appear yesterday he would be reported to the High Court as being in contempt of court.

Meanwhile, an appeal against a High Court ruling allowing 20 police officers to give evidence to the inquiry from behind screens has been dismissed in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. The three judges agreed with Mr Justice Kerr's judgment in February when he said the fears of former RUC officers "were not manufactured".

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