by Kathryn Hadley
‘Will unsullied evidence ever be obtained on which definitive judgements can be made? Will not the emotiveness of the events preclude such definition? And would the truth be believed by all parties if it was obtained?’
Those were the questions asked by Dr Anthony Seldon about the events of Bloody Sunday in an article published in History Today almost twenty years ago, in November 1991.
Seldon’s article examined the dividing line between history and current affairs and was part of a special supplement entitled ‘Secret History’, which explored the issues raised by a series of ‘secret history’ documentaries being screened at the time on Channel 4. The Channel 4 series aimed to use new evidence and re-interpretation to uncover the ‘historical truth’ about a wide range of controversial historical events in the 20th century. In his introduction to the series, Channel 4’s then controller of factual programmes, John Willis, described the aim of the series: ‘to establish the firm truths underlying the welter of hearsay, propaganda and partial recollection that obscures so much of our knowledge of the past’.
Twenty years later, have Anthony Seldon’s questions not been answered with yesterday’s publication of the long-awaited Saville report? Has the ‘truth’ about the events of Bloody Sunday not been established at last?
There certainly appeared to be no doubt in David Cameron’s mind about the conclusions of Lord Saville’s report as he delivered his speech, yesterday, to the House of Commons: ‘The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong’.
Footage of Cameron’s speech is available on the website of the BBC.
Bernard McGuigan lying dead on Bloody Sunday (Channel 4), published in Secret History (November 1991).