Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Woodward criticises Saville delay

Shaun Woodward
Shaun Woodward said the Saville Report has taken too long to complete

The Northern Ireland Secretary has said the Saville Report into the events of Bloody Sunday has had too many delays and has taken too long to complete.

Shaun Woodward was speaking to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster on Wednesday.

He also warned that the report could languish in a warehouse for weeks if a general election is called.

The report is due to be delivered to Mr Woodward later this month. He is due to brief the families on Thursday.

Mr Woodward promised he would only take about two weeks to consider the mammoth document but added that nobody knew when Prime Minister Gordon Brown would call the election.

'Wild speculation'

He told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs the election raised security concerns about possible leaks and added people's lives could be endangered if highly sensitive personal details were released.

"Where it is the case that the report is delivered and there's not a parliament to publish the report, it then sits in electronic and in physical form in a warehouse for what might be weeks so I am genuinely concerned," he said.

"But I am also concerned, not just about legitimate leaks but those leaks which actually of course are not based on the report at all but are wild speculation dressed up as leaks."

He said such speculation would cause anxiety but "it will be impossible to give any response" at that time.

The £200m inquiry was set up in 1998 to re-examine the events of 30 January 1972, when British soldiers shot dead 14 people in Londonderry's Bogside.

The families of people killed on Bloody Sunday have criticised the Secretary of State as they will not receive the Saville Report for a further two weeks. They fear it could be amended or have parts withheld by government agencies.

Mr Woodward told the committee that as the Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville was independent, the government could not control costs or the publication date.

The committee was told that the Cabinet Secretary had contacted Lord Saville in an attempt to speed up publication.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman, Sir Patrick Cormack, said he found the publication delay depressing.

On Wednesday, it emerged Alliance Party leader David Ford had described the Saville Inquiry as "pointless".

Mr Ford made the comment last November in a briefing note to the Liberal Democrats ahead of parliamentary questions to the secretary of state.

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