Trimble and the film maker
BY LAURA FRIEL
Trimble was sweating and clearly nervous. He fumbled through files of documentation. His answers were clichés, his delivery mechanical, his demeanor cold. He never looked any of the jurors in the eye. Two weeks ago, it was the turn of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to take the witness stand in the McPhilemy libel action in London's High Court.
Documentry film maker Sean McPhilemy is suing the British Sunday Times over allegations that his programme, ``The Committee'', was a hoax based on unsubstantiated rumours and fabrications from its main source, loyalist Jim Sands. The programme was screened in 1991 as part of Channel 4's Dispatches series.
The documentary claimed to expose a murder conspiracy in which senior RUC officers, businessmen, a solicitor, and religious and political representatives colluded with loyalist hitmen in selecting republican and nationalist targets for assassination.
The film did not identify the alleged conspirators by name but in a book of the same name, ``The Committee'', written by McPhilemy two years later and published in the USA, 24 people were named as members of the committee and four others, including David Trimble, were named as associates.
McPhilemy has said that the Sunday Times' denunciation of his programme destroyed his career and reputation as a film maker. ``I'm capable of making mistakes but there was no intention in my part to participate in any deception,'' McPhilemy has told the court. Embarking on such a hoax would have been ``fatal'' to the future of his company, Box Productions, he said.
``Unbelievable'' was how David Trimble summed up his reaction to the accusation by McPhilemy that he associated with loyalist killers. There was not a ``single scrap or shred of truth'' in the allegation, said Trimble.
``To say that I was knowingly associating with and assisting people responsible for the murder of my constituents is grossy offensive to me and would be extremely damaging, but for the fact that I have not met anyone in Northern Ireland who takes the book seriously,'' said Trimble.
Of course not meeting anyone who holds a different view is something for which David Trimble is particularly renowned. For years as an MP for Upper Bann, Trimble refused to meet with many of his constituents who live along the nationalist Gravaghy Road and hold a different view to that of the Orange Order.
Questioned about his membership of the Orange Order, Trimble dismissed the notion that it is an anti-Catholic organisation. It is simply ``fraternal'', Trimble told the court. Barrister James Price said ``fraternal'' was not the word which sprang to mind in the light of the Orange Order's insistence on marching in uniform through nationalist areas.
``Understandable'' was the word which sprung to Trimble's mind. People were reluctant to give up their right to walk along a public highway on which parades had been held without trouble since the early 1880s, said Trimble.
Price asked David Trimble if it was true that after the 1995 Orange March through the Garvaghy Road, he had danced a celebratory jig with the Reverend Ian Paisley. ``I have never danced a jig with anyone, let alone Ian Paisley,'' he replied. He had been ``rejoicing'' but not dancing, Trimble told the court.
Then there was the question of the Vanguard rally at which David Trimble, a founding member of this quasi fascist grouping, stood by William Craig's side as he advocated ``liquidating the enemies of Ulster.'' But that was 1972 and everyone was saying things like that at the time.
d that's about the height of it. Film footage of David Trimble grasping the hand of Ian Paisley in a triumphalist gesture at the head of Orange marchers after they have intimidated their way down the nationalist Garvaghy Road is not evidence of ``dancing'', only ``rejoicing''.
d Trimble's membership of the Orange Order should not be seen as sectarian, merely ``fraternal''. And the intimidation of Catholics in Portadown by parading Orangemen for the last 200 years has been ``without trouble''.
During a Drumcree church parade of 1795, the antecedent of the present day Orange Order's July service, marchers ``gave full scope to [their] anti papal zeal, falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without distinction''. Over two centuries later, the Orange Order is certainly less troubled. Now the RUC beat Garvaghy residents off the road for them.
d media exposure of Trimble meeting loyalist mass murderer Billy Wright at Drumcree in 1996 was simply a meeting between an MP and his ``constituent''. A meeting between two ``men of influence'', the media was told at the time. It is not ``associating'' with ``people responsible for the murder of my constituents'' because that would be ``grossly offensive'' and ``extremely damaging''. Yes it would be, wouldn't it David?