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Bloody Sunday Inquiry

Dr. Vis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress with the police investigation into the destruction of rifles pertinent to the Bloody Sunday inquiry. [4979]

Mr. Hoon: The police investigation into the unauthorised destruction of possible Bloody Sunday rifles announced in my answer of 17 February 2000, Official Report, column 648W, was completed in April 2001. The Bloody Sunday inquiry has been fully informed of the progress of the investigation and asked, at the outset, that the scope of the investigation be widened to establish the histories and whereabouts of the 29 weapons originally examined by the Widgery inquiry in 1972.

The police investigation revealed, for the first time, that the partial serial numbers provided by the Bloody Sunday inquiry generate 60 possible permutations for the 29 weapons originally sought by the inquiry. The report therefore reveals that the information on which my answer of 17 February 2000 was based, although provided in good faith, was inaccurate and incomplete.

By establishing detailed audit trails for all 60 weapons, the police have been able to recover 14 weapons and confirmed that 29 have been destroyed. The police were unable to confirm the existence or whereabouts of the remaining 17 weapons, some of which have been sold, complete or in parts. Others may have either been destroyed prior to the creation of the computer record or manufactured and delivered to customers overseas.

The self-loading rifle (SLR) was declared obsolete in November 1997. A routine disposal programme involving the sale and destruction of the weapons was in progress from January 1998, although some surplus rifles were disposed of prior to this date. At the time of the inquiry's request the disposal programme was reducing stock by 4,000 weapons a month with the aim of completing disposal by April 2000. By the end of January 2000 approximately 116,000 SLRs had been disposed of out of a total of 144,000.

The dates on which weapons that "match" the partial serial numbers provided by the Bloody Sunday inquiry were destroyed are as follows:

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By September 1999, when the inquiry made a formal request for weapons and provided partial serial numbers, the Ministry of Defence held six weapons but was able to identify only five as Bloody Sunday "possible". Two of these weapons identified as Bloody Sunday weapons, together with a third weapon that had not been identified, were destroyed in a routine disposal programme on 26 and 27 January 2000. The destruction only came to light after the event when the computer database was updated. My answer of 17 February 2000 incorrectly stated the dates at which the computer record was updated, rather than the actual dates of destruction.

The police report concluded that the weapons were destroyed as a result of a combination of factors including inaccurate computer records, duplicated serial numbers and mistakes resulting from human error rather than an overt criminal act. Based on the police report, I am satisfied that there was no conspiracy to destroy evidence sought by the inquiry. The matter has now been referred to the chain of command to implement management improvements designed to prevent a recurrence and to determine whether any internal disciplinary action needs to be taken.

The evidence contained in the report suggests that the destroyed rifles would have been of little value to the inquiry due to duplicated serial numbers and the lack of certainty that any individual weapon was fired on Bloody Sunday. However, the police report indicates a strong possibility that a L42A1 7.62mm sniper rifle conversion can be matched to a Bloody Sunday weapon. The whereabouts of this weapon were unknown when the report was produced, but it has now been recovered by the MDP. The police investigation also confirmed that it is not possible to determine whether any rifles have retained their original barrels as large numbers of rifles were re-barrelled during the 30 or so years that the weapons remained in operational service. Detailed records were not kept to record whether a rifle had been re-barelled, or how many times this may have occurred.

The Bloody Sunday inquiry will reach its own view as to the potential forensic value of the weapons.

Nuclear Weapons (Accidents)

Phil Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the circumstances of each of the accidents involving UK nuclear weapons referred to in the answer given by the then Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) on 16 July 1996, Official Report, columns 484–85W. [5030]

Mr. Hoon: We have a good record on the safety and security of our nuclear weapons and continue to place the highest importance on work in this area. I have today placed in the Library of both Houses a table which sets

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out the circumstances of each of the seven accidents concerned. The information it contains is drawn from records spanning a period of 40 years and confirms that:

In addition to the three road traffic accidents referred to in the table, our research has identified one other, similar, event which took place in 1960 in Lincolnshire. There is no damage to the weapon involved. Since this event pre-dates current reporting system it is unclear whether, in today's terms, it would be categorised as an accident.

The Government remain committed to greater openness on nuclear issues wherever possible. A key responsibility, however, must be to protect the safety and operational security of our nuclear forces and the people who support them. The practice of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons at any particular place and at any particular time will therefore continue to be a cornerstone of the Government's policy on nuclear weapons issues.

Depleted Uranium

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his most recent estimate is of the levels of depleted uranium, monitored in Kosovo and Serbia, arising from the use of allied depleted uranium munitions. [3957]

Dr. Moonie: On 21 June, the Ministry of Defence published a detailed paper entitled: 'Report of a Reconnaissance Visit to Develop an Enhanced Environmental Monitoring Programme in the UK Sector in Kosovo', which discusses the findings of a MOD reconnaissance team visit to Kosovo from 19–23 January to plan work, conduct field measurements and take preliminary samples. The field measurements supported the view that the risks from DU to our troops, and the population, are low. Analysis of some soil samples was delayed, as a result of potential asbestos contamination, however the information will be available for publication in the next few weeks. A copy of the team's report is available on the MOD internet website: index.php3?page=2739 and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

The full, enhanced environment surveillance programme, announced on 9 January, is expected to take place in August. The programme will be conducted in accordance with a protocol which is currently under expert and public consultation. That consultation period ends on 20 July. Results from the programme will be published accordingly.

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish details of the depleted uranium-based 'Charm 3' ammunition referred to the letter from the then Minister for the Armed the Forces, the hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), of 26 February. [3958]

Dr. Moonie: Yes. As explained in the letter from the then Minister for the Armed Forces dated 26 February, D/Min(AF)/JS PQ 0299/01/Y, a copy of which is in the Library of the House, we have begun to conduct an

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analysis of the composition of the Charm 3 120mm DU-based anti-tank ammunition round using independent laboratories to confirm the data provided by the manufacturer (and published by the Department on 7 February 2001, Official Report, column 521W) about DU contamination by other radioactive materials. The works is currently incomplete owing to technical difficulties.

Explosives (River Tamar)

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what research his Department has undertaken into the presence of explosives on the bed of the River Tamar, with particular reference to the risks to the local population; if he will publish the outcome of the research; and if he will make a statement. [4445]

Dr. Moonie: A rigorous and extensive research, survey and clearance operation was initially undertaken between 1993 and 1997 to confirm, as far as reasonably practicable, the removal of explosives from the Bull Point land area and adjacent River Tamar. Subsequently, further survey and clearance operations were conducted, using experts in the field and state of the art technology, in order to establish safe working conditions as a prerequisite to the dredging for the Remote Ammunitioning Facility Tamar (RAFT).

The explosive items have remained submerged and incident free for in excess of 50 years. All the clearance operations conducted to date have been completed without incident, including riverbed blasting in support of RAFT.

Presentations on the clearances and finds have been made to local interest groups, local government representatives and the local press and media over the last 12 months. The issue has also been the subject of public meetings. Information, including research documents, has been displayed at HM Naval Base open days. A copy of the research documents will be placed in the Library of the House.

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