Soldiers will not attend Bloody Sunday inquiry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Former British soldiers who fear for their safety if they return to Northern Ireland will not have to give evidence in person to the Bloody Sunday inquiry. The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling yesterday that quashed a decision by the inquiry tribunal that the witnesses must attend hearings at Londonderry's Guildhall.

Former British soldiers who fear for their safety if they return to Northern Ireland will not have to give evidence in person to the Bloody Sunday inquiry. The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling yesterday that quashed a decision by the inquiry tribunal that the witnesses must attend hearings at Londonderry's Guildhall.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Master of the Rolls, said in a reserved judgment that the soldiers' human rights would not be protected if they were ordered to attend. The tribunal's ruling did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, he said.

The test case was brought by 36 military witnesses who had accused the tribunal, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, of "knowingly exposing individuals to the risk of death" despite "overriding concerns" expressed by the Ministry of Defence that they would be prime targets. The Court of Appeal upheld last month's ruling in the High Court that the tribunal had misdirected itself in law on the legal test to be applied when assessing the risk to soldier witnesses. The witnesses are now expected to give evidence to the tribunal by video link from London.

Relatives of those who died in the shootings said they were bitterly disappointed by the ruling. Mickey McKinney, who lost his 27-year-old brother, William, said: "Again we feel an inferior court has overruled an international inquiry. Here you have a system starting to protect its own."

Greg McCartney, a solicitor for relatives of Jim Wray, 22, said he was "totally disgusted". "The families have been waiting for justice from English judges for 30 years and will probably have to wait another 30 years to get it," he said.

Lord Phillips said the soldiers, who had fired live rounds on Bloody Sunday in January 1972, had already successfully challenged a decision by the tribunal that they should be identified by their full names. In that legal battle, the Court of Appeal ruled that the soldiers had reasonable grounds for fearing for their lives if they were identified and the tribunal had failed to show compelling reasons for naming them. Lord Phillips said the latest challenge to the tribunal's decisions was again based on the soldiers' fears that their lives would be put at risk if they went to Northern Ireland.

Christopher Clarke QC, representing Lord Saville, had told the appeal judges that the tribunal was entitled to conclude that the soldiers had no reasonable reason to fear for their safety in the light of the protection being offered.

However, Lord Phillips said that while most people in Londonderry wanted the inquiry held peacefully, both sides agreed there were dissident republicans who were keen to disrupt the peace process. He said: "Those soldiers who fired live rounds will be aware that there are many in Northern Ireland, and especially in Londonderry, who believe that they were party to murder."

Comments