QCs on six-year, £155m Bloody Sunday inquiry say: it has cost far too much

The investigation into the shooting of 14 protesters by British troops in 1972 sits for the last time this week
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The length and cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which begins its final hearings this week, has been condemned by the leading lawyers involved, who have earned millions of pounds from it.

The length and cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which begins its final hearings this week, has been condemned by the leading lawyers involved, who have earned millions of pounds from it.

The inquiry in Londonderry will reconvene tomorrow for its final public session, following a marathon six years of proceedings that are expected to cost £155m.

One London-based firm - Eversheds - has earned fees of more than £12.5m for its monumental task of tracing and taking written statements from up to 2,500 witnesses.

Two leading QCs have told The Independent on Sunday that the findings into what happened on 30 January 1972, when British troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry, killing 14 and wounding 13, will be undermined by the expense and length of the hearings.

Although the inquiry is expected to sit for the final time on Tuesday, Lord Saville, its chairman, is not expected to complete his report before next autumn.

One leading QC said: "Knowing the quality of mind of the chairman, I would expect the final report to be thorough and utterly convincing in its conclusions. But I think it will be diminished in the eyes of the public by the fact that it has taken so long and has cost so much to produce it."

British legal history will never again see an inquiry of its duration, magnitude and cost. The general feeling is that in future inquiries will be much more limited affairs, with the cost and duration more tightly controlled.

This is an important point in Northern Ireland, where the Government has already announced inquiries into a number of other controversial killings. These include those of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and loyalist leader Billy Wright.

Another QC involved in the inquiry said the debate among lawyers was not about how to curtail the costs of future tribunals, but whether these types of inquiries were the best way of resolving historical questions.

He said: "Everyone recognises that this was somewhat unique. It has really looked over 30 years of history in Ireland and I don't know of any inquiry that's had this amount of material to examine. So people are beginning to discuss whether something along the lines of a truth and reconciliation committee can be used instead."

Although much attention has focused on the huge cost of the investigation, some who attended its sessions say they will most remember the high emotion rather than the high spending.

It has been the longest-running judicial investigation of the modern era, with more than 400 days of public hearings. Much of the evidence was repetitive, but there have been moments of high drama.

Particularly strong testimony came from Dr Edward Daly, the former Catholic Bishop of Derry who on Bloody Sunday was pictured waving a handkerchief as casualties were carried out of the area. Asked about the possibility that paratroopers had killed almost 30 IRA members who were spirited away and secretly buried, he replied: "I think it is offensive nonsense."

Among the late witnesses were the head of the Provisional IRA in the city and his deputy, Martin McGuinness. Mr McGuinness, now Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, robustly maintained his stance that the IRA had played no violent part in the events of the day.

He said the Army's behaviour on Bloody Sunday had "absolutely amazed, bamboozled and perplexed" him.

Solicitors acting for the inquiry traced thousands of people, taking witness statements from around 1,800 soldiers, civilians, police, politicians, religious leaders and others.

The inquiry, announced by Tony Blair in January 1998, sat for 434 days, with counsel to the inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, delivering the longest opening speech in British legal history. Mr Clarke has prepared another huge closing speech, but it will be presented in written form. He plans to deliver a tight summary in less than two days.

This in itself is controversial. His written closing speech runs to 10 volumes of lever-arch files. Lawyers question whether the inquiry needs to hear a shortened version of this over two days.

A spokesman for the tribunal argued that the written submission would be incomprehensible to people without access to the 250 volumes of material generated by the inquiry. He added that, for the sake of the public record and the families who attend the inquiry, it was important to hear the statement in public. He stood by the £155m estimate for the cost of the hearing, which has also been questioned by lawyers involved with the hearings.

"My guess is that it will be nearer £250m," one leading QC said. "And remember, that's public funds; £155m represents the inquiry when it was two-thirds of the way through. I don't think that any sensible, civilised society and modern democracy can spend that amount of money on a public inquiry, no matter how important it is."

To begin with, no one imagined that the tribunal would turn into such a mammoth operation - consuming so much time and money. Much of the money has gone on lawyers, dozens of whom sat in serried ranks before the inquiry over the years, and much time was taken up by legal challenges to the tribunal's rulings in the courts.

There may be additional cost in terms of moral condemnation if - as most assume - the inquiry's chairman, Lord Saville, places the lion's share of the blame on the Army.

One local nationalist described how Lord Saville is regarded in Londonderry, where - after all these years - he has become a familiar figure: "People like him, but they say, 'We'll just wait and see what he reports.' More lately, they've been saying, 'Well, look what Hutton did.'"

One of the reasons for the inquiry's longevity, it is argued, is the fact that Lord Widgery's original 1972 investigation was so perfunctory. He took just two and a half months to deliver a 39-page report, which in some cases covered deaths in a single paragraph.

Lord Saville has a carefully cultivated manner of judicial inscrutability. When the main hearings closed earlier this year, he seemed relieved, giving a hint of a smile as he spoke of a ruling given "as far back as 1999, I think".

Many paratroopers testified that they came under intense IRA fire, but no soldier was hit by a bullet. The soldiers, by contrast, shot 27 men and boys within a period of around 15 minutes. No compelling evidence emerged that any of them was armed.

But those keen to uncover a government-level conspiracy to deliberately stage a large-scale shooting operation have been disappointed. The authorities were certainly keen to take on the IRA, but many familiar with the evidence conclude that one over-aggressive general egged on a particularly aggressive unit.

Dozens of members of the families of those who died have sat through the inquiry's sessions. They wanted the investigation, but listening to minute details of the deaths was clearly a draining ordeal for many of them.

It may have ended up taking six years and costing millions of pounds, but now at least the truth of what happened that day may finally emerge.

THE TOP EARNERS

Some of the barristers and law firms involved in the Bloody Sunday inquiry and their earnings:

Christopher Clarke QC

Who is he? Counsel for the inquiry.

Expertise: One of the country's leading commercial lawyers.

What did he do? Largely gave up his lucrative private practice for the inquiry's duration. He and his team were responsible for advising the tribunal, presenting evidence and questioning the 921 witnesses called to give oral evidence and taking them through their written statements.

Earnings: £3,721,971 from the inquiry.

Lord Gifford QC

Who is he? Counsel representing families.

Expertise: Leading human rights lawyer.

What did he do? Cross-examined witnesses on behalf of some of the families.

Earnings: £618,544

Michael Mansfield QC

Who is he? Counsel representing families.

Expertise: One of the country's best-known barristers.

What did he do? Cross-examined witnesses on behalf of some of the families.

Earnings: £561,711

Edwin Glasgow QC

Who is he? Counsel representing the armed forces.

Expertise: Specialises in insurance, commercial law and human rights.

What did he do? Cross-examined witnesses on behalf of soldiers.

Earnings: £3,333,954

Sir Allan Green QC

Who is he? Counsel representing the armed forces.

Expertise: Former director of public prosecutions.

What did he do? Cross-examined witnesses on behalf of soldiers.

Earnings: £1,208,323

Eversheds

Who are they? Solicitors employed by the inquiry for taking witness statements.

What did they do? Traced the vast majority of 2,500 witnesses and took their statements.

Earnings: £12,609,388

Madden and Finucane

Who are they? Solicitors appointed to represent the families.

What did they do? Cross-examined witnesses on behalf of the majority of the families.

Earnings: £6,707182

Source: Hansard

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