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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 09:30 GMT
Another milestone for Bloody Sunday
Paul McCauley
BBC Northern Ireland correspondent at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry has finally reached its last witness.

The tribunal was set up by Prime Minister Tony Blair in January 1998 to investigate the deaths of 13 people in Londonderry in 1972.

The inside of the Guildhall
The hi-tech surroundings of the Bloody Sunday tribunal
All thirteen were killed by soldiers after the Parachute Regiment moved into the Bogside area during a civil rights march. A 14th person died later.

While the tribunal still has a number of other phases to complete, Friday marks the end of regular sittings in the Guildhall during which hundreds of witnesses have given evidence.

Ironically the last witness is a former member of the Provisional IRA who claims he was the leader of that organisation in Derry in 1972.

The IRA bombed the Guildhall twice in one week that year.

The tribunal has been sitting in the Great Hall of the Guildhall which is normally used for the city's main civic and cultural events.

For the past four years it has been a vast legal arena, populated by dozens of lawyers, each using the most up-to-date computer technology.

Chief of the General Staff Sir Mike Jackson
Chief of the General Staff Sir Mike Jackson gave evidence

The same equipment was used to display complicated legal documents on huge screens suspended from the ceiling of the Great Hall so that members of the public and the families of those killed could follow every word.

The arena will stay like that until the end of this year when Counsel to the Inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, delivers his closing statement.

The inquiry has so far lasted more than six years and has cost 130m. The final cost will be in the region of 150m.

The 919 witnesses have given evidence over 400 days of hearings both in the Guildhall and in Methodist Central Hall in London.

Civilians

The tribunal moved to Central Hall for just over a year to hear the evidence of the soldiers.

They had argued that their lives could be in danger from republicans if they had to travel to Derry to testify.

While in London the tribunal heard evidence from former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, the current Chief of the General Staff, Sir Mike Jackson, and from many of the soldiers who shot and killed people on Bloody Sunday.
The tribunal heard evidence from former PM Sir Edward Heath
The tribunal heard evidence from former PM Sir Edward Heath

The soldiers insisted that they only fired at gunmen and nail bombers.

In Derry, most of the evidence was from civilians who were in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.

Most of them told the tribunal that the paratroops opened fire without justification and that those who were shot were unarmed.

While the tribunal stops hearing evidence on Friday it still has some time to go.

In the background, the legal teams representing the soldiers and the families of those who died will be working on their closing submissions.

They must be delivered by the middle of next month.

The legal teams will be brought back to the Guildhall in June to clarify any outstanding matters to the inquiry. This session is expected to last no more than a week.

Following that, Christopher Clarke QC will write his closing statement which he will deliver in the Guildhall in October.

He is expected to take no more than a fortnight to complete his statement.

Only when Mr Clarke has finished that stage of the tribunal will the three judges - Lord Saville, William Hoyt and John Toohey - sit down to write their report.

They are expected to publish their findings in the spring of 2005, bringing the inquiry to a final conclusion.




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