Bloody Sunday testimony draws to a close

A date has been set for the end of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

The Inquiry into the killing of 14 civil rights demonstrators in Derry by British soldiers was formally established six years ago, 26 years after the massacre took place.

The original Widgery Inquiry was widely perceived to have been a whitewash for the British Army's actions.

Lord Saville, who is chairing the new inquiry, announced yesterday that final oral witness testimonies would be heard at Derry's Guildhall on February 13 next.

More than 900 people have given evidence since the inquiry started hearing oral accounts in March 2000.

In the last four years, the inquiry has heard evidence from expert witnesses, former soldiers, people who were on the original march, senior politicians and former IRA Volunteers.

The tribunal announced yesterday that after oral evidence officially concludes, interested parties can deliver written submissions until March 12.

The inquiry will reconvene on June 7 when the tribunal will seek any necessary clarification from written submissions.

In October, counsel to the inquiry Christopher Clarke QC will make a closing summation. It is believed Lord Saville, Mr Justice Hoyt and Mr Justice Toohey will deliver their report either at the end of this year or the start of 2005.

Last night, Liam Wray -- a brother of Bloody Sunday victim Jim Wray -- said he was relieved that the inquiry was coming to an end.

Mr Wray said the tribunal, one of the longest in British legal history, had been difficult on an emotional, physical and mental level.

``I will be glad to see the conclusion of the inquiry,'' he said.

``It has been a long process that has affected family life. It has been distressing; it has taken over lives to some extent,'' he said.

Mr Wray said he looked forward to the publication of Lord Saville's report so that he could reclaim his life and finally get justice for his dead brother.

* A witness claimed yesterday she saw a gunman fire a shot at a soldier as civilians lay dead and dying at a rubble barricade on Bloody Sunday.

Margot Harkin, who was a 20-year-old art student at the time, watched the shootings from the fifth floor of Rossville Flats.

She said that after a number of people had been shot at the Rossville Street barricade she saw two young men run into the area and take up a position at a gable wall in Glenfada Park facing into Rossville Street.

One of the men, clearly agitated, took a gun from his colleague, ducked his head around the wall and fired a random shot, she said. ``Immediately after this, the gun was thrust back at the other man and they both ran away very fast the way they had come.''

Ms Harkin said she believed he was shooting at a soldier who was edging along a wall at Glenfada Park.

``I have to say we thought that he was firing at the soldier that we saw going along the wall, but I mean it was a really wild shot,'' she said.

Ms Harkin also recalled a British army armoured vehicle coming into the area to deal with the bodies at the rubble barricade.

``The bodies were picked up as if they were carcasses or sacks of potatoes and literally thrown into the back of the Saracens,'' she said.

* In other testimony this week, two journalists, who face possible contempt charges, again refused to reveal the identities of soldiers present on Bloody Sunday. Alex Thomson and Lena Ferguson said they were prepared to go to jail to protect their sources.

* Sinn Féin has accused the British government of perpetuating the suffering of relatives of Bloody Sunday victims by ``refusing to acknowledge the role of the British state''.

Speaking at a Bloody Sunday anniversary rally in London, West Tyrone assembly member Barry McElduff said relatives were unable to bring ``this painful chapter to a close''.

``Nobody should underestimate the absolute need on the part of relatives to have the British government acknowledge the truth of what happened in Derry on January 30 1972,'' he said.

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