1998 – The British government bows to pressure and announces a new judicial inquiry into the killing of 14 unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry on January 30, 26 years ago.

Following extensive lobbying, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announces a new judicial enquiry, headed by Lord Saville, into the events of Bloody Sunday, January 30 1972 when 14 civilians were killed by British troops. The original enquiry conducted by Lord Widgery, where he exonerated the military of all blame was seen as a total whitewash by Nationalists and most independent observers (and later Lord Saville.) Saville would not publish his damning report until 2010, concluding that British paratroopers fired the first shots without warning and that none of the victims were armed.

Two governments and three prime ministers ago, on January 29 1998, Tony Blair laid a resolution before the House of Commons. “It is expedient,” it said, “that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely the events on Sunday January 30 1972 that led to loss of life in connection with the procession in Derry that day.”

“Expedient” and “urgent” are not words anyone would now apply to the tribunal led by Lord Saville of Newdigate. The tone was set in the opening speech by Saville’s senior counsel, Christopher Clarke QC: it lasted 42 days, the longest in British legal history. The heroic quantity of Mr Clarke’s output – that speech alone contained a million and a quarter words – has been rewarded with equally heroic fees: £4.5 million. Nineteen lawyers have become millionaires thanks to the Saville Inquiry.

Between 5,000 and 20,000 people marched on the fateful afternoon in 1972. The number benefiting from the inquiry has, at times, been little smaller. As well as all the lawyers, the 921 oral witnesses, the dozens of officials and the support staff have created an entire Saville micro-economy in Derry, a city of just 85,000 people.

The council charged a bargain £500,000 a month for the 19th-century Guildhall, home of the public hearings. Lord Saville himself spent four years – at £175 a night – in the best suite of Northern Ireland’s top country-house hotel. He was such a good customer, they didn’t even move him when President Clinton came to stay.

Photo: Lord Saville Announcing Results, Bloody Sunday

NOTE: THESE VERY SAME PARATROOPERS WERE INVOLVED IN THE KILLING OF 11 CIVILIANS IN BALLYMURPHY, ONLY 5 MONTHS BEFORE, THE BALLYMURPHY FAMILIES HAVE YET TO RECEIVE JUSTICE!

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