During their campaign, families in Derry came across a bag of eyewitness statements taken in 1972. The statements had been lying under the stairs in civil rights activist Brigid Bond’s house for many years.
Her husband had found the papers after her death and passed them on to the families. He had also found the original Bloody Sunday civil rights banner still stained with Bernard McGuigan’s blood. The banner is now on display in the Museum of Free Derry.
Among the collection was a statement from a then 15-year-old Don Mullan and relatives invited local man Don to look through the statements – thus beginning another new chapter in the campaign. Realising the potential of these primary documents, Don decided to try to publish them with permission from their owners. With campaign support, Don Mullan threw himself into researching the book, which was to be called Eyewitness Bloody Sunday and would go on to be a bestseller.
In April 1996, campaigners were dealt a heavy blow when told the European Court had turned down their case. Relatives were ‘profoundly disappointed’ at the decision but vowed to continue their fight. The campaign also kept up the pressure through constant correspondence. In June 1996, they wrote another letter to Prince Charles asking him to condemn his soldier’s actions in Derry on Bloody Sunday. This time they received a curt reply from his private secretary suggesting it was ‘necessary to move on’.
Towards the end of 1996, plans to establish a Bloody Sunday Trust continued - with the aim of supporting and facilitating families during the course of the justice campaign.
Meanwhile, Patricia Coyle, working independently, waited for news from the Home Office about releasing their classified files. Several weeks later, the Home Office granted permission and so Patricia arranged to travel to London to examine the files. The new evidence she was to find in these dusty files would alter the course of the campaign.
The previously unseen documents revealed evidence that soldier’s’ statements had been tailored for the Widgery Tribunal and that lawyers for the families had received just a fraction of the information disclosed during the tribunal. She also found annotated drafts of Widgery’s report and various other illuminating documents.
Patricia then discovered a draft version of the Widgery Report, and was stunned to find an untidy note written on one of the pages, ‘The LCJ (Lord Chief Justice) will pile up the forensic evidence against the deceased.’
Strengthened by the magnitude of the new evidence, the campaign moved up a level. It was agreed that the new materials needed to be assessed by an independent legal expert, and the Bloody Sunday Trust subsequently commissioned Professor Dermot Walsh, Chair of Law at Limerick University, to undertake this assessment.