Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath today denied that he tried to browbeat the chairman of the original Bloody Sunday Inquiry into exonerating the British soldiers who carried out the killings.
Mr Heath, 86, said there was nothing sinister in his warning to Lord Widgery, who chaired the original inquiry, that Britain was locked in a propaganda as well as a military war in 1972.
He told the Bloody Sunday, sitting in central London, that Lord Widgery, then the Lord Chief Justice, understood that he was under no pressure to take sides.
“He made plain the difference between what our people are doing and what his task was,” Sir Edward said.
He rejected the suggestion from Michael Lavery QC, representing the families of many of the bereaved and injured, that the conversation was a signal to him that “England expects every man to do his duty“.
Mr Lavery continued: “This was a very dangerous period for the British Army because a serious propaganda defeat would aid the IRA.”
Sir Edward ordered the Widgery Inquiry the day after Paratroopers shot dead 13 Catholic men on a Derry civil rights march on January 30, 1972.
It largely exonerated the soldiers, saying they fired in self-defence after coming under attack. Survivors, the bereaved and Catholics dismiss the findings as a whitewash.
The Paras claim they fired at gunmen and nail bombers.
Impartiality was vital to Lord Widgery’s appointment, Sir Edward argued.
He continued: “The people who were involved in the appointment wanted it to be absolutely plain that there was no pressure on whoever did it to reach a particular conclusion.
“They all knew that was the last thing that I would tolerate.
“To suggest that Lord Widgery, of all men, would be browbeaten into finding conclusions which he did not think were genuine is malicious and it is completely unjustified.”
Parliament was keen for the Widgery Inquiry to report quickly on its findings and Lord Widgery was given the target of one month.
It lasted 20 days and reported six weeks after the event.
Sir Edward said he had made “no mental” decision about what had happened in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday because his main concern was setting up the legal framework to investigate it.
In appointing Lord Widgery he felt he had found the “most distinguished legal figure” available for the job.
Sir Edward was repeatedly asked by Mr Lavery whether innocent people were murdered on Bloody Sunday.
He stressed that he had not at the time, and would not now, make a statement about that.
He denied the Government had a “partisan interest” in the outcome of the Widgery Inquiry and had set it up in such a way to achieve “a certain result“.
Sir Edward returns to the witness box on Monday.
The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.