'I went to every day of evidence at the Bloody Sunday inquiry'
Mickey McKinney says the Saville Inquiry has 'taken over his life'
By Judy Fladmark
It cost £200m and took 12 years to complete, now the findings of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday will finally be published on Tuesday. But what was it like to sit through every single day of evidence?
Day in, day out, week in, week out, year in, year out. Mickey McKinney had no idea one day would change his entire life and dominate it for so long.
On 30 January, 1972, his older brother William, aged 27, was shot and killed in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers opened fire on crowds during a civil rights demonstration. He was one of 13 men to die on the day; another died weeks later from his injuries. That day became known as Bloody Sunday.
William, who died on Bloody Sunday
Next week, the Saville Inquiry - ordered by Tony Blair in 1998 after a long campaign by the bereaved - will deliver its findings into the deaths.
Mr McKinney has sat through every single day of evidence - equivalent to five years in total - in the longest and most expensive state-funded investigation in British legal history.
He has watched 922 witnesses give evidence, including the prime minister in 1972, Sir Edward Heath, 33 policemen, 245 soldiers, 35 IRA or former paramilitary members and seven priests.
And when the inquiry switched from Londonderry to London for just over a year, due to fears over the safety of the military witnesses giving evidence, he became a long-distance commuter so as not to miss a thing.
"It has taken over my life, it's there all the time and I won't get away from it until I see the report," he says.
Each part has been difficult to deal with for different reasons, he says. When the inquiry was in Derry, five days a week he had to walk past the spot where his brother died to get the Guildhall to listen to the evidence.
Mickey McKinney on the events of the day and following the inquiry
In 2001 the Court of Appeal ruled the evidence of military witnesses should not be heard there, and so in 2002 the venue switched to the Central Hall in Westminster. It's a decision Mr McKinney felt was wrong.
"Derry should have been the place where everyone concerned gave their evidence."
Nonetheless, for just over a year he flew to London every Sunday night and continued to attend the inquiry five days a week. He stayed in a hotel near the venue, flying home again each Friday. Relatives of others who died on Bloody Sunday did the same, but it was still a lonely and isolated existence.
"You weren't free to be with your family."
After breakfast, he would walk to Central Hall and listen to the evidence, which was often upsetting. He remembers the quiet times in the evenings when the inquiry had finished for the day. He would go to his hotel room, get dinner and just sit there.
Mr McKinney was one of two family liaison officers funded by a human rights group for the duration of the inquiry. As well as his own personal pain, he was there to support the other families through theirs.
Those who died on Bloody Sunday
"It took a toll on me. You were doing two jobs in one, trying to be a number of things to a number of people."
The inquiry covered his travel and hotel expenses, but the emotional cost was huge. He says he had to draw on his inner strength to get through all the years of evidence.
"I never dreamt that I would be involved in anything like this," he says. "I discovered a strength that I didn't know was there. All the families found an inner strength to get through this."
The inquiry was set up to re-examine the events of that day. The initial Widgery report - published weeks after the killings - exonerated the soldiers of blame, concluded civilians had fired on the troops first and some victims had been handling weapons. It was dubbed a whitewash by the victims' families, who campaigned for a public inquiry to clear their loved ones' names.
There have been highs and lows during the course of the inquiry, says Mr McKinney. He is glad it has made people "account for their actions on the day". But some evidence he found exceptionally hard to hear, especially that of the soldier suspected of shooting his brother.
"That was a very painful day," he says.
And he's found it frustrating to wait so long for the findings, although he realises the inquiry has been as thorough as possible with so many witnesses.
"Anxiety levels are heightened as the days and weeks go past. We are in limbo and it's just sitting and watching the clock now."
He hopes the publication will give some kind of closure to the relatives.
"But again it depends on what Lord Saville puts in his report. It's only when we know what his recommendations are, that I can put closure on this."
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