4000 pages but maybe no summary…

The Bloody Sunday inquiry is as endless as Penelope’s burial shroud. The ways of lawyers are unfathomable. Lord Saville is sorry. Now 72, he has blighted his career by spending almost the whole of his time as a law lord on it. Because of the unconscionable time taken and the mind-blowing cost, the patience of government broke and they passed the Inquiries Act which has made a future inquiry into the Finucane test case impossible. All this we know. The area of judicial inquiry is not one of the greatest advance. Even three years ago, I would have insisted never again can it be said that Irish injustices are dismissed by British judges. But suspicion in Ireland is a bottomless pit. Can it be that’s what the families are now suggesting? This life shortening long haul has sapped morale and so has defeated the purpose. Of the time itself I have fringe memories and unorthodox thoughts… As a very young TV reporter, having covered the blood spilled from cracked heads and run the gauntlet of 1 Para’s snatch squads on Magilligan strand the previous Saturday, I was on a day off in Derry that day and didn’t bother to look at the gathering crowds – what was one more anti-internment demo? I went on to report the whole six weeks of the Widgery tribunal in Coleraine and London. Whitewash was what he handed down maybe but nonetheless there were plenty of critical pointers in the evidence, if they had been picked up. But analysis and development were not in the temper of the time.

A few years ago making an archive programme on 1972 for the BBC, I annoyed a young BBC producer who, loaded with a whole generation’s hindsight and orthodoxy failed to appreciate an observation I made in the film. I thought it a good idea to try to capture an idea I’d then had. I’d welcomed a quick inquiry because there was a chance that it wouldn’t be superseded by events like the otherwise excellent report on the August 69 violence by Leslie Scarman. But it was not to be.

While an openly critical report would have been right in itself, would it have made any difference? It seems unlikely. Bloody Sunday may have been a watershed, the IRA was greatly boosted , the old Stormont fell, but all that produced no definitive outcome. Waking away from St Mary’s Creggan after the highly emotional funeral mass presided over by Cardinal Conway, a sober-minded, highly experienced local colleague said to me: “Never again will these people accept British Rule”. While the term British rule is super-loaded, if what he meant was “ a united Ireland or nothing” that too didn’t come about.

Among the few who read the final report in full – and there are many who’ll blanch at Saville’s uncertainty over writing an executive summary – the journey towards the conclusion may matter more than the final destination. On the verdict itself I have my own minimalist version. We knew what had happened in less than an hour (we didn’t know how or why and I doubt if we ever fully will). And in the most concise summing up of the final 4,000 pages I predict that Saville will in effect depart from Widgery’s evasive conclusion “bordering on the reckless,” by omitting the first three words.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London