Saturday 24 February 2018

Families arrive for Bloody Sunday report findings

Relatives of those shot dead on Bloody Sunday, in Derry marching to the Guildhall where they will receive copies of the long-awaited Saville report. Photo: PA
Relatives of those shot dead on Bloody Sunday, in Derry marching to the Guildhall where they will receive copies of the long-awaited Saville report. Photo: PA

Families of the Bloody Sunday dead today entered Derry's Guildhall to read the Saville report they hope will exonerate their loved ones.

After more than a decade and 30 million words of testimony, the longest and most expensive inquiry in British legal history will culminate with the publication of its findings today.

After a night of anxious expectation in Derry, bereaved relatives hugged each other and cried as they made their way to the venue to get early access to the long-awaited report into the killings of 14 civilians on January 30 1972 by British soldiers.

The relatives clutched placards bearing the photographs of their dead loved ones, with the words: 'Set the Truth Free'.

As they arrived at the Guildhall amid emotional scenes, they were greeted with applause. John Kelly, brother of Michael Kelly who was killed on the day, said he had been unable to sleep last night as he anxiously awaited the release of the report.

"We are not looking for an apology, you cannot apologise to the dead," he said.

But Mr Kelly said he hoped that a 38-year struggle to have the circumstances of his brother's death officially acknowledged was about to end.

The 61-year-old grandfather was among the relatives who formed a silent procession from a memorial to the dead in Derry's Bogside, along the intended route of the ill-fated civil rights march, to the city's Guildhall.

Mr Kelly said he expected soldiers to be found to have broken the law and said it would be up to the Prosecution Service and the Conservative-led Government to accept the findings of what had happened on the day.

He added: "Murder happened here in this city and the politicians will hopefully agree.

"Bloody Sunday had a great impact on the Troubles here. It was a major historical event and today is a major historical event."

Sombre 

Just under 60 relatives took part in the sombre procession, snaking along a half-mile route in the city under brilliant sunshine.

Among them was three-year-old Megan Bradley, who carried a picture of her grandfather, Jim Wray, who was shot dead on Bloody Sunday.

The Guildhall clock chimed as the families began the tense task of sifting through the mammoth document which has catalogued their loved ones' final moments of life.

Sinn Fein politicians Martin McGuinness and Conor Murphy accompanied the procession.

Mr McGuinness, who was second in command of the IRA in Derry in 1972 but who now fills the role of Deputy First Minister, said people around the globe would be anxiously awaiting the publication of the Saville report.

"This is a big day for Derry," he said. "This is a big day for Ireland. This is a big day for the world, because the eyes of the world are looking at what is going to happen."

Lawyers for the families of those killed and the soldiers from the Parachute Regiment began to pore over the document earlier this morning, with all early access to the report under strict secrecy until it is officially launched by Prime Minister David Cameron at 3.30pm.

Advance 

Two family members for each of those killed and injured were being given advance access to the report under strict security arrangements, as were soldiers involved on the day and some MPs and peers in Britain.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has already received a copy.

The full report, expected to contain 5,000 pages and which runs to 10 volumes, will be fully published at 3.30pm as the Prime Minister makes a statement in the House of Commons.

It will simultaneously be released in London and Dublin.

In Derry, thousands of people are expected to march from the scene of the killings in the nationalist Bogside to the Guildhall in the afternoon ahead of Mr Cameron's address.

A large outdoor screen has been erected in the Guildhall Square to relay the statement to those gathered.

When she is handed the report, Kay Duddy, 63, whose teenage brother was the first person shot dead, will grip a handkerchief which became the enduring image from the day.

The bloodstained cloth was waved aloft by the then Father Edward Daly as he tried to guide a small group of men carrying 17-year-old Jackie Duddy out of gunfire to medical help.

"We'll all need the handkerchief," said his sister, who was 26 at the time.

Ms Duddy gifted the piece of material to a small museum last year after nearly losing it to a would-be mugger but asked for it back temporarily as a "comfort blanket" to see her through the report.

She will also carry with her a letter posted to her brother 10 days before his death from the British Merchant Navy, which shows he had applied to be a seaman, like his father before him.

"He wanted to see the world, I suppose," she said.

The Navy turned him down on account of him being three months over the age of 17 - the upper limit for the junior ranks - but asked him to a meeting to discuss his future on February 4.

He was buried on February 2.

Exoneration

Only an outright exoneration for the 14 dead will allow Ms Duddy and, she says, the rest of the city to move on from one of the most pivotal events of the Troubles.

"I used to say that I've become synonymous with Bloody Sunday," she said.

"Now I want to become anonymous with the publication of this report."

A controversial inquiry by then Lord Chief Justice John Widgery, published on April 19 1972, effectively absolved the soldiers of any blame and claimed many of the dead had been armed.

The report has long been considered a complete whitewash by the victims' families.

A subsequent campaign, alongside political developments in the peace process and pressure from the Irish Government, eventually led then prime minister Tony Blair to order the Saville Inquiry, which was set up in 1998.

Sitting in the Guildhall, Derry, and Central Hall at Westminster in London, to accommodate military witnesses, the inquiry has cost £190.3m (€229.6m) up to February this year.

Around 2,500 people gave evidence, with 922 of these called to give oral testimony, including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 journalists, 245 military, 35 paramilitaries or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants, seven priests and 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.

Evidence ran to 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words, 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audio tapes and 10 video tapes. 

Downing Street said Mr Cameron - who was just five years old at the time of Bloody Sunday - regarded Lord Saville's report as "a very important statement".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Cameron and Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson had received copies of the report at 3.30pm yesterday - 24 hours before the official publication.

"He (Mr Cameron) has obviously seen that and been briefed by officials," the spokesman said.

Press Association

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