Britain downplays reported leak on N.Ireland killings

11th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain described as "speculation" Friday a report that a long-running inquiry into the most disputed incident in Northern Ireland's bloody Troubles will find that soldiers unlawfully killed civilians.

The Guardian newspaper said a long-awaited report into so-called Bloody Sunday in January 1972, due to be published next week, will conclude that a number of killings by British soldiers were illegal.

The report, due to be unveiled next Tuesday after a 12-year inquiry into the deaths of 13 civilians, will put severe pressure on prosecutors in Northern Ireland to bring charges against soldiers involved, the newspaper said.

But the Northern Ireland office downplayed the Guardian report, while lamenting its impact on families of the soldiers and civilians involved.

"The Saville report will be published in a few days and everyone can read it for themselves," it said, referring to Lord Mark Saville, who headed the inquiry.

"Speculation of this kind can only add to the stress and anxiety of those most directly affected by all of this: the families of those killed and injured and the soldiers who have waited a long time for this report," it added.

The Bloody Sunday report is certain to stir up deep-seated emotions in the province, where peace has held between Protestants and Catholics despite a resurgent threat from dissident paramilitaries.

The 5,000-page report examines the events of January 30, 1972 in Northern Ireland's second city Londonderry, when 13 civilians were shot dead by British soldiers at a civil rights march. Another man died later from his wounds.

It was a landmark incident in the history of The Troubles -- the three decades of violence in which more than 3,500 people died, which were largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The inquiry was commissioned by prime minister Tony Blair in January 1998, three months before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

The probe has dragged on for years, and cost a fortune. Publication was held up further by this year's general election, in which Blair's Labour party and his successor Gordon Brown were swept from office.

The report was finalised in March, but there was not enough time to publish it before parliament dissolved ahead of the May 6 polls.

© 2010 AFP

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