Lord Saville’s lack of understanding of the publishing world led to the latest three-month delay to his £200m report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the judge is reported to have admitted.
According to the Sunday Times, Lord Saville sent a letter to the families of victims and to other parties in which he is said to have stated he underestimated the time it would take to print, publish and paginate the 4,500-page report, which is aimed at seeking out the truth of the controversial day in Northern Ireland Troubles.
Lord Saville (73) was appointed by Tony Blair 11 years ago to head the inquiry after the British Army shot dead 13 civilians on the streets of Londonderry on January 30, 1972.
A litany of delays has dogged the publication of the report which should have been made public four years ago. The latest delay was revealed last week when Lord Saville set a new date as next March, claiming that his task was extraordinarily difficult, and that he had worked extremely hard.
It will push the spiralling costs of the inquiry inexorably towards the £200m mark. When Tony Blair announced the inquiry in January 1998, it was seen as a vital step in the journey towards the Good Friday Agreement, it was expected to cost less than £10m and the estimated publishing date was some time in 2000.
But with the inquiry dragging on, and 14 lawyers so far banking £1m each, the cost to the overburdened taxpayer soon raged out of control.
With Lord Saville in charge — he became a QC in 1975 and a Law Lord in 1997 — the Bloody Sunday Inquiry has long since become one of the biggest and most expensive in British judicial history.
One eminent QC who appeared at the inquiry, and has asked not be be named, said: “This is one day in the life of Northern Ireland, but it has spun out of control. The art of being a good inquirer is not to be snowed under by documents, but just go for the crucial things. It has taken an absurd amount of time to write up this inquiry.”
The initial costs of hosting the inquriy in Derry came under fire, but when Saville moved to London in 2002 and those costs went into the stratosphere, the criticism reached a crescendo.
Even when the final oral evidence was gathered in 2005, the publication date was pencilled in for the following year, but everyone involved is still waiting.
Last year, Lord Saville defended the delays when he said: “The reason is this is so huge, but we will finish it.”
But the delay is causing frustration at every level of government and among the families. Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodword said last week he was “profoundly shocked” at this latest delay.