Bloody Saville

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The Bloody Sunday Inquiry will not deliver its report until the end of March next year, the government announced tonight.

Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary, was said to have been profoundly shocked. And no wonder.

Lord Saville and his judicial colleagues finished taking evidence from all but a handful of witnesses in February 2004 and heard closing speeches in November of that year.

The law lord, who becomes a Justice of the Supreme Court next month, made it clear at the time that he planned to submit his report to the Government in the summer of 2005.  That means he is now running nearly five years behind his own schedule.

Downing Street had been expected to take delivery of Lord Saville’s report later this year, by Christmas at the latest.

But Mr Woodward has now been told it will not be ready until March 22 next year.

There was no explanation for this surprisingly precise date. But if the report is not ready until next March its publication may be held up by the general election.

The first Bloody Sunday inquiry, conducted by Lord Widgery, published its report within 11 weeks of the events of January 30, 1972 when British troops opened fire after a civil rights march in Londonderry. Fourteen people died and another 14 were injured.

Lord Saville is said to have told their families that unforeseen difficulties in printing his report were causing the delay. The document, which will run to several thousand pages, is said to have been virtually completed and was due to be with the printers in November.

The chairman of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry is highly computer-literate and must have produced his report in electronic form. That being so, there seems no rational reason why it could not be published on-line within a few days or published in hard copy within a few weeks of its completion.

Lord Saville owes us both an explanation and an apology.