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 I’d welcomed a quick inquiry because there was a chance that it wouldn’t be superseded by events like the otherwise excellent report on the August 69 violence by Leslie Scarman.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.

  • Dewi

    Good post Brian. Perhaps “Murderous” rather than “reckless”

  • Let’s face it, Lord Saville was the last judge to put in charge of such a difficult assignment, whether paid or not.

    He has little credibility with his legal colleagues, often having his rulings overturned,
    and finally resorting while a Law Lord to concurring with whatever his colleagues determined without uttering a word.

    And while presiding over his inquiry, he has done much to inflame its proceedings, and prolong its existence.

    He has been so bad that one is tempted to think that it was planned so from the beginning.

  • RepublicanStones

    Unfortunately i feel your analysis may be correct Brian and Saville may indeed be Widgery-lite. Unionism won’t stand for the ‘good’ name of the british army being sullied over the minor incident of clipping a few pesky natives. The final verdict, won’t be the real verdict. But as the british armys activities in Ireland and its other colonies are well known, whitewash follows murder as sure as night follows day. Perhaps this is where the Shinners learned the tactic.

  • Ri Na Deise

    You want the truth?

    You cant handle the truth.

  • joeCanuck

    Everyone knows the truth by now.
    The ill-led squaddies will get the blame of course and those really responsible will walk away unscathed, except in the minds of the relatives.

  • Harry Flashman

    Yes, Brian, it was somewhat more than ‘reckless’, and it shouldn’t take eleven years and eleventy gazillion pounds to state the plain simple fact that a humbler law officer worked out in a matter of minutes.

    Major Hubert O’Neill, the Derry coroner summed it up as “sheer unadulterated murder”, all that is required is for the British government to acknowledge that fact, apologise appropriately and we can all move on.

  • cynic

    The decision not to present an executive summary is interesting. Will Saville even attribute blame? His Terms of Reference dont require him to and simply state:-

    “a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely the events on Sunday, 30 January 1972 which led to loss of life in connection with the procession in Londonderry on that day, taking account of any new information relevant to events on that day.”

    So he may just point up where there is agreement and highlight the different views on disputed issues – or as the (former) Great Leader put it when introducing the Inqiry in the Commons

    “Let me make it clear that the aim of the inquiry is not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day, so far as that can be achieved at 26 years’ distance.”

    But even if the report is strong who will it satisify? As the posts to date on this thread already show, we all know what happened…or rather we know what we want to have happened.
    Closed minds fed on 30 years of propaganda are already made up so now they turn to feed on the Enquiry Chairman. Just in case his report isn’t ‘objective’ enough to satisfy their views, he made it worse, delayed it, isn’t a good enough judge anyway, they say.

    So what was / is it all for? A bit of political Grandstanding that has gone badly wrong? A misguided attempt to bring closure? God knows. Will it actually help anyone? No chance.

  • With the furore about the costs and delays of the Saville Inquiry continuing, with Sir Max Hastings now joining the fray, perhaps it might be useful to note that the Law Lord was really unqualified to head any inquiry involving the British Army.

    While the Saville Inquiry was getting underway, Saville headed a select committee in the Lords he was responsible for the appointment of to re-examine the deadly Chinook helicopter crash at the Mull of Kintyre in 1994.

    The crash had already been investigated by an RAF inquiry and an inquest, and while they did not come up with any definite explanation of the disaster, they still indicated that pilot error was probably the most important factor in the crash though they did not attribute responsibility to them for, among other reasons, not upsetting the families even more.

    Then there all kinds of conspiracy theories about it – a Provo rocket, sabotage, American interference with navigation, etc.

    Saville was not satisfied with this, though, going out of his way to say that it was not pilot error which caused the crash – showing a real bias towards military personnel when it came to any really controversial incidents.

    This should have led, I think, to his removal from the Bloody Sunday inquiry.