The Bloody Sunday families have described the latest delay in the publication of the Saville report into the 1972 deaths as a “kick in the teeth”.
Lord Saville told the families yesterday that his report would not be formally handed over to Secretary of State Shaun Woodward until March.
The delay means that the report may not be handed over to the families until even later next year.
Earlier this year Lord Saville told the families he expected to hand the report over this autumn.
But yesterday he said the printing and proof-reading of the report was taking longer than expected.
Lord Saville told the families: “I am extremely disappointed by this further delay but I can assure you that the tribunal and inquiry team have worked as hard as they can and continue to do so.”
He claimed that unexplained difficulties had emerged in the physical printing of the report.
The latest delay means the report will be published more than 12 years after the inquiry was established.
It was immediately apparent that the report might be further delayed as a result of the British general election, due in May. With the right-wing Conservatives likely to take power, there are fears that political influence could then be brought to censor or suppress the report.
John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said the families had been preparing for the report to be published by Christmas.
“It’s a kick in the teeth for the families. To tell you the truth, I am totally devastated,” he said.
Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was also among the Bloody Sunday victims, said the families were angry.
He said: “We will be making our sense of disappointment known to Lord Saville and Shaun Woodward within the next 48 hours, asking them to re-consider the day and bring it forward by a number of weeks.
“March 22 means Parliament will be moving towards the Easter recess and possibly the imminent announcement of an election.
“That will inevitably mean yet another delay because the government of the day will want to have a close look at the findings, before the report is finally released to the families. We are gravely concerned about that.”
A spokesman for the British government claimed Mr Woodward was “profoundly shocked at the news of a further delay”.
SDLP leader and Foyle MP Mark Durkan said the delay “heaps huge distress to the families and adds complications to the consideration of the report.”