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banner Friday, 24 March, 2000, 13:49 GMT
Q & A: The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

An independent public inquiry into Bloody Sunday began in April 1998. Find out more about the inquiry and why it was set up.

How did the new inquiry come about?

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced a fresh inquiry into Bloody Sunday in January 1998 because he said much new material had come to light. That material included new eyewitness accounts, new interpretation of ballistic material and new medical evidence. It followed a sustained campaign by relatives of the 14 people who died.

Let me make it clear that the aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day.

Tony Blair
In 1997, the families had provided the Conservative Government with a new dossier and the Irish Government also sent that government a detailed assessment of that material.

It also examined the findings of Lord Widgery, the then Lord Chief Justice in 1972, who carried out the original Inquiry within 11 weeks.

Mr Blair said: "Let me make it clear that the aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day, so far as that can be achieved at 26 years' distance.

"It will not be easy, and we are all aware that there were particularly difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland at that time.

"Our concern now is simply to establish the truth and to close this painful chapter once and for all."

What has been happenening since the inquiry was announced?

Interviewed by the Saville inquiry:
610 soldiers
729 civilians
30 journalists and photographers
20 government officials/politicians/senior military staff
53 RUC police officers
There was a delay in the start of the inquiry proper for a number of reasons. First, and most obviously, the sheer scale of the inquiry meant that it could not simply open its doors and begin taking evidence.

Sixty four volumes of documents had to be collated as well as 5,000 photographs (some of them duplicates). The team also amassed 46 videotapes and 23 audiotapes.

This process of discovering documents was both laborious and time consuming - but probably not as difficult as collating witness statements.

Considerable time was spent tracking down soldiers who were on duty in the city.

A private firm of solicitors also had the task of taking hundreds of statements from witnesses. More than 610 soldiers have been interviewed as well as 729 civilians.

Thirty journalists and photographers and approximately 20 government officials, politicians and senior military and police staff spoke to the inquiry before it began formal hearings. In all 53 RUC officiers serving at the time of Bloody Sunday have been interviewed.

Second, there has been a legal battle over anonymity for soldiers. Rulings by the inquiry were challenged in court several times. Almost all soldiers will now remain anonymous. Crucially, 36 of the soldiers, believed to include those who fired the fatal shots, have won a legal battle to give their evidence without returning to Derry.

The inquiry finally began to hold public hearings in spring 2000 - and continues to this day.

When will the inquiry be completed?

In 1998, the expectation was just one year. At the time of writing, the inquiry was approaching its fourth anniversary.

The Guildhall, where most of the evidence is being heard, was initially booked for two years. To date, the inquiry has cost an estimated 30m, with some predicting its final cost will be as high as 100m.

Who is taking part?

The inquiry chairman is Lord Saville of Newdigate, an English Law Lord who sits in the highest Court of Appeal in the UK.

He is being assisted by two colleagues from overseas. They are the Hon John Toohey, a former member of the Australian High Court, and Mr Justice William Hoyt, Chief Justice of the Province of New Brunswick in Canada.

There are a host of legal teams representing the Ministry of Defence, individual soldiers, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, families of those who were killed and people who were injured.

What do the families hope to achieve?

The families say they want to clear the names of their loved ones and remove any implication that they were guilty of any crime. Of the soldiers who have spoken about Bloody Sunday, many say they genuinely believed that they were under attack from "gunmen and nail-bombers".

Is it likely anyone will be prosecuted?

The inquiry panel has emphasised that this is not a trial. Its remit is to try and ascertain the truth in an open, thorough and fair manner.

The inquiry QC commented: "It starts (the inquiry) with no assumptions as to what happened and with no aim to reach any particular conclusion or result other than that of discovering the truth."

Whether there are any subsequent legal proceedings remains to be seen.

What does this Inquiry mean for people of Derry and throughout Northern Ireland?

Derry is a predominantly nationalist-Catholic city and many believe the deaths were completely unjustified. The city coroner, in 1972, described the shootings as "sheer, unadulterated murder".

Nationalists and Catholics believe the forces of the state acted outside the law.

Many unionists believe the British Army was completely justified because soldiers thought they were coming under fire from some of the marchers.

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