By 1995, the campaign was continuing to gather momentum. Both at home and abroad, there seemed to be a distinct shift in attitudes. Improved political relations on all sides bolstered the campaign’s credibility.
Taoiseach John Bruton designated one of his own civil servants to act as liaison between the Irish government and the families. The tide was turning.
On 16 February 1995, three years after she first refused to meet them, the Bloody Sunday relatives were finally granted an audience with President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. They asked yet again for her support and invited her to lay a wreath at the Bloody Sunday memorial the next time she was in Derry.
While the campaign continued unabated in Derry, Patricia Coyle was still engrossed in the search for evidence. Having already discovered the original Coroner’s Report in Belfast, Patricia knew the next step was to gain access to the Public Records Office in Kew Gardens, where the national and government archives are kept. The Home Office had lodged the papers from the Widgery Inquiry there. Attached to the letter from the National Archives was a catalogue list showing categories of materials lodged by the original Inquiry, thirteen of which were sealed for periods of either thirty or seventy five years. The hunt for documents suddenly became interesting. They applied to have these files released. With little finances to travel to London, Patricia and Peter Madden were happy that Jane Winter in England agreed to begin investigating the open material at Kew.
During a subsequent visit to the Public Records Office in August 1995, Jane Winter unearthed the infamous Heath-Widgery memo. The document, headed ‘secret’, was a record of a meeting between Prime Minister Edward Heath, Lord Chief Justice Widgery and Lord Chancellor Hailsham in Downing Street the day after Bloody Sunday.
In it, the Prime Minister suggests that the recommendations on procedure for inquiries made by Lord Salmon in the 1921 Act ‘might not necessarily be relevant in this case.’ He also advised Widgery to remember that ‘we are in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war’, while the Lord Chancellor suggested that the Treasury Solicitor would need to ‘brief counsel for the army.’
When news of the memo filtered through to the families in Derry, a press conference was called for 10 November 1995 at the Pat Finucane Centre. Jane Winter had travelled from London for the press conference to discuss her find and copies of the memo were distributed to the media. The revelations generated a flurry of press interest and a statement released by the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign described the memo as ‘only the tip of the iceberg.’
That week’s Derry Journal ran with a front-page banner headline ‘Widgery memo damns British’ and claimed that the discovery of the confidential minutes would ‘send shockwaves through the British establishment.’ Relatives said the find was ‘absolute dynamite’ and hailed it as the first major breakthrough in terms of incriminating the British government since 1972.
The Widgery memo.