The long-awaited report into the British Army Bloody Sunday massacre will not be released by the current British government, it has emerged.
British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward confirmed that British government officials are this week beginning checks of the 5,000-page document for potential “security issues”. British military intelligence chiefs, who are closely involved in the scrutiny of the document, are said to have requested the delay.
The families of those killed and injured want an early publication of the report of the public inquiry, the second to be held into the British Army shootings which left fourteen dead at a civil rights demonstration in Derry in 1972.
A group of relatives met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as recently as last week to discuss their concerns over the handling of the matter.
In a statement to the Westminster parliament today [Monday], , Woodward claimed that he was legally obliged to have the ‘checks’ carried out. He added: “Once the checking process is complete, a publication date can be set and the report can be printed.”
The announcement confirmed fears among relatives of those killed that British military intelligence is seeking to censor, delay and ‘spin’ the report.
“We ask, is it fair that the British government get advance access to the report, advance possibility of preparing a response, with the possibility of changing Lord Saville’s report itself?” they said in a statement.
“We ask, is it justice that the British government, who were responsible for Bloody Sunday, will control the release and maybe even the content of the report?”
It was reported that four copies of the report will be produced -- two for the British vetters and two for the inquiry. However, the announcement by Saville that government officials can scrutinise the report only while it is still in his formal possession was welcomed by the familiies.
“While we disagree fundamentally with the need for a security review, we nevertheless welcome Lord Saville’s decision to retain possession of the report until it is ready to be made public. We feel now that this report can and should be released before the dissolution of parliament, and we urge Lord Saville to take every precaution to ensure that his report is not undermined in any way.”
Woodward claimed relatives of the bereaved and injured, plus soldiers involved in the inquiry, would be given access to the report on the day of its eventual release.
“Publication of the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry has been long-awaited and it promises to be a hugely significant event in Northern Ireland’s history,” he said.
“But this is also an occasion that will have an enormous impact on the private lives of ordinary people.
“I am determined to ensure that arrangements for publication are fair and reasonable, and at all times I intend to act reasonably in recognition of the interests of the families, soldiers and others involved in the inquiry, and of my obligations to Parliament.”
Woodward said he wanted to publish the report in full, but said he would remove extracts where advised necessary “to ensure the safety of individuals”.
The Saville inquiry was set up in 1998 to re-examine the events of January 1972, when soldiers from the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside area of Derry.
It was established after the original Widgery Inquiry in the wake of the killings was widely dismissed as a whitewash.
Derry MP Mark Durkan criticised the today’s announcement, which he said would bring new questions over the future of the report and fresh uncertainty.
“In Derry recently, [Woodward] told the media that such consideration [of ‘security issues’] could take ‘a few days’. If, he envisages in today’s statement, his delegated officials will have access to Lord Saville’s report this week, then a timetable of ‘a few days’ could still lie within the indicative period remaining for this Parliament prior to dissolution.”