by Democrat reporters
ANY HOPES that the cross-examination of former British prime minister Sir Edward Heath would result in a major breakthrough at the Bloody Sunday inquiry were dashed during a string of tribunal appearances by the ageing Tory politician in January.
In his statement to the inquiry, Heath, who is only the second British prime minister ever to be called upon to give evidence to an official inquiry, denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the events of Bloody Sunday and insisted that he was unable to add anything to the findings of Lord Widgery’s discredited inquiry.
In what amounted to little more that a catalogue of denial and alleged memory loss, Heath refuted the suggestion that his government had sanctioned the shooting of civilians and denied having knowledge of the memo from general Ford, in which the senior army commander had raised the possibility shooting “selected ringleaders of the Derry Young Hooligans” as a means of restoring ‘law and order’.
Heath, who also claimed not to have known that paratroopers had been deployed in Derry, was unable to recall any intelligence briefings relating to predicted IRA activity on the day of the march or, indeed, any specific intelligence briefings on Northern Ireland throughout his time in office.
In a rare admission, the former prime minister confirmed that he had warned Lord Widgery that the government was fighting a propaganda as well as a military war. However, he strongly refuted the suggestion that he had attempted to “give a steer” to the then lord chief justice of England towards producing a report which exonerated the soldiers and maligned those killed on Bloody Sunday.
Although challenged on a number of these points by counsel for the Inquiry Christopher Clarke QC, Heath invariably offered little more than the same unenlightening cocktail of denial and evasion.
Faced with the more robust questioning from the legal representatives of victims’ families, Heath added direct obstruction, disdain and outright belligerence to his already extensive defensive armoury.
In a series of prolonged and ill-tempered clashes over three weeks, most of which involved Michael Lavery QC, Heath bullishly resisted all attempts to provide the inquiry with information on a range of relevant issues, including British government and ministerial attitudes to the Irish, the situation in Northern Ireland and the events surrounding Bloody Sunday.
Frequent interventions by inquiry chair Lord Saville in support of Heath’s objections to awkward and probing political questions did little to dispel the suspicions of some observers that, by insisting on more amenable lines of questioning, the inquiry chair was effectively protecting the former PM.
Commenting that Heath’s testimony, Connolly Association general secretary Jim Redmond said that Heath’s response was typical of the upper echelons of the British political and military establishments.
“All too often, they conveniently fail to see the connection between their ingrained view of Britain’s relationship with the Irish, tainted as it is by centuries of conquest, repression and imperial rule, and the malign influence that this has had on both government policy and those responsible for carrying it out on the ground.
“Despite his position as the government’s most senior minister at the time, it is clear that Heath has no intention of admitting any degree of responsibility for the events of Bloody Sunday and remains intent on deflecting blame away from himself and towards senior military personnel.”
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