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July 2000

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Londonderry Report

Bloody Sunday Inquiry: New Technology Helps Examine a Searing Page of History

Bloody Sunday Web Sites
(Partial List)

Official Inquiry Tribunal

Bloody Sunday Trust

University of Ulster

The Irish Times

BBC News

Guardian Unlimited

ON JANUARY 30, 1972, 13 people died in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in a horrid, frantic episode that would forever be known as"Bloody Sunday."

It was supposed to be a peaceful civil rights march; the "air was crisp and the atmosphere was akin to a carnival," recalls observers. But by the day's end, blood was on the streets. British paratroopers had shot and killed 13 men, and wounded another 13. A 14th would die later of sustained injuries.

On Bloody Sunday, marchers were both defying the anti-march ban, as well as protesting the internment policy. A key issue in 1972 was an "internment without trial" policy of the British goverment, instituted the previous summer by the Stormont Parliament, effective August 9 1971.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Immediately upon its enactment, British soldiers made sweeping arrests of suspected Irish Republican Army activists in a number of Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. "Hundreds of men were taken from their homes . . . and interred in concentration camps, without being charged with or tried for any criminal offense," recalls Samuel Dash (former chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee), in Justice Denied, (published by the International League for Human Rights).

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

But how the peaceful demonstration turned fatal, and why, continued to be a source of controversy and confusion. A previous Inquiry, conducted by Lord Chief Justice of England, The Right Honorable Lord Widgery, produced a report within 11 weeks of the incident, exonerating the soldiers. Not surprisingly, it only fueled the frustrations of the Northern Ireland citizenry.

Indeed, Bloody Sunday became a flashpoint in the continuing unrest between Catholics and Protestants, between the "Unionists" and the "Nationalist/ Republicans" over how the north of the island should be governed. Nationalists (largely Catholic) want a united Ireland; Unionists (largely Protestant) want to continue as part of the U.K.

To date, more than 3,250 people have been killed in this ongoing conflict. Peace efforts continue to this day. But many -- especially family members of the decedents -- fervently believe that no peace will be accomplished until the truth about Bloody Sunday is examined in depth to find out exactly what happened.

Blair Declaration

Recognizing the symbolism of the incident and its aftermath, on January 28, 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the British Parliament set up a Tribunal of Inquiry, to re-examine the events.

"Our concern now is to simply establish the truth, and to close this painful chapter once and for all," Blair said. Most family members, he said "do not want recrimination; they do not want revenge; but they want the truth."

Lord Mark Saville, of Newdigate, a British Law Lord, agreed to chair a tribunal of three. Saville chose two others to sit with him: Sir Edward Somers, a former judge of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, and Mr. Justice William Hoyt, Chief Justice of the Province of New Brunswick, Canada.

Oral Hearings

The oral testimony phase of the Inquirys began on March 27, 2000, in Londonderry's Guildhall, a beautiful, towered Victorian building in the center of Londonderry, within blocks of the sites where the 14 men were killed.

The proceedings are expected to last "at least" two more years. To date, the costs have run £19.3 million.

Saville is fiesty, smart, and down-to-earth. He passionately believes that technology can help his panel. When the Inquiry first began, in April, 1998, Saville pledged that it would be accessible to the world. Saville also promised to go into closed session only when "very strong grounds" required, and pledged to put all material into the public domain as quickly as possible, unless "persuaded for compelling reasons" to "take a different course."

"To assist the public nature of this Inquiry, we intend to take full advantage of information technology," he said, outlining his plans.

The key tools, he said, would be LiveNote real-time transcripts; closed circuit television for family members, the media and the general public; a Web site with daily transcripts and rulings; imaging of documents; and a "virtual reality" video program to help the jurists understand Londonderry's streets at the time of the incident, and to amplify witness testimony.

His opening statement was televised, but Saville ruled against live TV broadcast of the proceedings. "Since we intend to use our Web site to provide a ready means of following what is going on, the rest of the hearings will not be televised," he said. However, Saville did permit a closed circuit television system to enable real-time access to the proceedings within Londonderry.


Lis Birrane is the press officer to the Inquiry, and like her boss, is very passionate about the concept of access. She was responsible for much of the set-up of the viewing sites outside of Guildhall, and gave me a tour of the neighborhood viewing areas.

Of particular concern was the accessibility of the proceedings to the family members and news media who cover the hearing, many on a daily basis.

The families have a reserved block of about 50 seats in the hearing room. They also have a separate room at Guildhall, with a CCTV feed, where they can watch the proceedings in a more comfortable environment, converse and have tea

Across the plaza, another live feed goes to the offices of the Bloody Sunday Trust, an advocacy organization that has been working on behalf of the families.

In the Guildhall hearing room, 40 seats are reserved for the media. There is also a separate media center, adjacent to Guildhall, that can accom-modate 25.

It offers a CCTV feed, phone/modem lines and power points; an ISDN line; a fax; a PC with the virtual reality program installed and Internet access; photocopier; a document library and a special noise-reducing booth for broadcasting.

The general public is allowed in the upper balcony of Guildhall, where there are about 100 seats. About two blocks away is the Rialto theater, normally a movie house, that holds 900. While the Inquiry is in session, it is transformed into an auxiliary hall with a live feed where the general public can view the proceedings, free of charge.


Above Saville and his colleagues is a long side wall of stained glass windows,The massive Guildhall looks like a church; full of ornate carved wood and a huge pipe organ that takes up an entire wall. Above Saville and his colleagues is a long side wall of stained glass windows, enhancing the solemnity of the room. A wooden balcony (the general public seating area) counterbalances the pipe organ on the opposite wall.

The huge main floor area, where counsel sit, is crammed full of desks with video monitors. Two large monitors hang from above; one for document display; one for video display. In the center area is the Inquiry staff, lead by Christopher Clarke, QC, who serves as lead Counsel to the Inquiry. (QC stands for "Queen's Counsel, the most elite level of Barrister.) Alan Roxburgh and Jaccob Grierson are also on the Inquiry team.

Facing the judges, on the left, are the Solicitors, Barristers and Queen's Counsel who represent the families. On the right side of the room, are those who represent the government (and the soldiers involved in the incident).

Overseeing Tech

After a beauty contest, International Computers Ltd. was chosen by the Tribunal to oversee the technology installations for the Inquiry. ICL has experience with similar massive efforts, having coordinated the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, another major U.K. undertaking.

Douglas McQuaid, an independent consultant who frequently works with Graham Smith and the court reporting company, Smith Bernal, agreed to oversee the LiveNote operation. LiveNote is being used to create "real time transcripts" of the daily proceedings, explains McQuaid.

Two reporters and an editor are present each day. Heather Woodside is the primary reporter, and Emma Watmore is the editor. (The back-up reporter varies.) Woodside keys in the spoken words, working phonetically explains McQuaid. "That feed is converted electronically into ASCII text, and then instantly passed to all users in the courtroom," he says. (Editor Watmore gets the same text, but is able to manipulate it and catch any errors. Her version becomes the final edition, which is posted on the Inquiry Web site, usually within about two hours of the close of the day's session.

The lawyers uses laptops, connected to the feed via a serial port. The feeds are one-direction only, (they can only receive the transcript and cannot alter it, or network with each other) so there is no danger of a lawyer inadvertently seeing another lawyer's work product. However, the LiveNote software (loaded onto each laptop) does allow the lawyers to manipulate, annotate and highlight their individual copy for their own use on their computer.

In fact, says McQuaid, some family members' lawyers have passed on copies of the LiveNote program to their clients, who often search the day's transcript, and send annotations back to their attorneys. (Families and other authorized users are e-mailed daily transcript feeds.)

Training of the attorneys was a huge issue. Some of the participating lawyers "didn't even know where the shift key was," recalled McQuaid. But even the newest took quickly to the program. "The words duck and water come to mind," McQuaid says with a laugh.

The Tribunal staff, including the three jurists, has a separate, networked feed, allowing them to use LiveNote's collaborative features, such as instant messaging via Microsoft Outlook. "This has done away with the idea of the lawyers having to scribble notes for the judges," explains McQuaid. Saville is openly enthusiastic about LiveNote, and says its installation in the Inquiry saves about 25 percent of the time that is spent with traditional paper-based daily transcripts.

Document Processing

ScreenAt each lawyer's desk is a screen, displaying documents, video, and the virtual reality system. Legal Technologies Ltd. oversees the document coding and display. TrialPro Presentation System, (from Innovative Design & Engineering Associates, Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas), is used to display images of documents, which were scanned and coded, he notes. TrialPro integrates with LiveNote.

ScreenThe Inquiry is inaurgurating a new feature of TrialPro, says IDEA's John Moerhing. After discussions with the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office three years ago, the software was customized to allow exhibits to be automatically logged by time of day (date/time stamp); witness information, enabling easy recall of documents later in the proceedings. "I'm glad it has finally been put to use!" says Moehring.

In addition to desktop versions, the exhibit and virtual reality and CCTV feeds can be seen on two large screens hanging from the Guildhall ceilings over the main room, and via video displays at off-site venues.

Virtual Reality

One of the most exciting technologies in use at the Inquiry is a "virtual reality" system developed by the University of Ulster, using Apple QuickTime.

Like a sophisticated video game, it allows users to "walk" the streets of Londonderry, dragging their finger along an image on a touchscreen video screen monitor. The program was built using photographs of Londonderry in 1972, current photographs, and animation. Users can choose the current day layout of the city, or the city as it was at the time of the incident. It is truly amazing to see in operation.

McQuaid says everyone, from family members to lawyers to jurists, is just wild about the virtual reality system. Like the adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words," it should be especially helpful when witnesses testify as to the events of that day, to give the jurists and participants a much better sense of the realities faced by all those who were in Londonderry on January 30, 1972.

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