Bloody Sunday hearings open in London

Tuesday 24 September 2002 18.01

The families of those killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 have called on the soldiers involved to tell the truth. The Saville Inquiry opened its London proceedings this morning.

Former Chief of General Staff, General Sir Frank Kitson, was the first of the 300 soldiers due to appear at the Tribunal. General Kitson was commander of 39 Brigade covering army units in Belfast, including 1 Para, in January 1972.

He said he had no recollection of the events leading up to January 30 that year, and only had a very general understanding of the security situation in Derry.

He was on leave when his men were called there as reinforcements for the security forces and was only told about the events when he returned from leave.

Sir Frank, who is now 75, said he had no recollection of paratroopers being warned that heavy-handed techniques used in Belfast were unsuitable for the more sensitive situation in Londonderry, or of other military leaders saying they did not want the Paras working in their areas.

Other senior soldiers have told the inquiry terrorists were frightened of 1 Para and an unnamed Army captain told a journalist just days before Bloody Sunday that senior officers considered the Regiment brutal.

He described as total rubbish a report suggesting he was involved in a plan that the illegal march would come under attack, that the IRA would be forced to defend it and that snatch squads could then be sent in to arrest the terrorists.

Controversial former information officer, Colin Wallace, was also due to resume his evidence to the Inquiry today.

The British soldiers who are to give evidence to the inquiry had said they feared attack by dissident Republicans if they made the journey to Derry.

Sir Edward Heath, who was British Prime Minister at the time of Bloody Sunday, and former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington are also to appear before the tribunal.

Some of the soldiers due to give evidence have already given statements and appeared before the disputed 1972 Widgery Inquiry.

The tribunal has been running for more than two and half years and has heard evidence from nearly 600 witnesses so far - mainly civilians, clergy and members of the former Royal Ulster Constabulary.

A total of 1,700 witnesses have given statements and it is expected that 900 of these will have given oral evidence by the time the tribunal completes its work.