Exhaustive struggle to establish the truth could take four years, or longer

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The Independent Online

The inquiry into the deaths of Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972 has been running for two full years, with estimates that it may well last a further two years or even longer.

The inquiry into the deaths of Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972 has been running for two full years, with estimates that it may well last a further two years or even longer.

Since it was announced in January 1998 it has grown well beyond the expectations of those involved. Yesterday was Day 75 of public hearings of the tribunal, which is headed by Lord Saville of Newdigate.

The tribunal has heard from dozens of civilian witnesses, but hundreds more - civilian, military and political - are scheduled to give evidence.

A great deal of legal argument also lies ahead on issues such as whether soldiers should give evidence in Londonderry or in Britain.

The much-criticised Widgery report into Bloody Sunday was produced within 11 weeks of the killings. By contrast, the present exercise aims to be as exhaustive as possible.

Dozens of lawyers, including leading London and Belfast QCs, are employed at the inquiry, representing soldiers who were in Londonderry, relatives of the dead and many other elements. The cost already runs into many millions of pounds.

Some lawyers, and one of the original three judges, have stepped down from the exercise for a variety of reasons.

Those who remain include well-known figures such as Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC and Michael Mansfield QC.

The tribunal has tracked down and interviewed more than 1,400 witnesses, finding them in every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. In addition, it has amassed a huge volume of material, which includes photographs, film and audio tape recordings.

In announcing the inquiry in January 1998, Tony Blair said: "Let me make it clear that the aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recrimination, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day.

"Our concern now is simply to establish the truth, and to close this painful chapter once and for all. Most of the families involved do not want recrimination; they do not want revenge; but they want the truth."

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