THE BLOODY Sunday inquiry, which cost £200 million and lasted for 12 years, could not have been carried out more cheaply, or more quickly, Lord Mark Saville told the House of Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee yesterday.
"If you try and do an inquiry on the cheap, or you try and do it quickly, you come seriously unstuck. Lord Widgery [ who carried out the original Bloody Sunday inquiry] was asked to do an inquiry quickly, and, if I may say, so, boy, did he come unstuck," he declared.
"Thoroughness. That was the aim. I was not thinking that everybody was necessarily going to agree with my conclusions, but what I did not want said was that we did not do a thorough job," Lord Saville told MPs.
He said no-one who saw the amount of material probed - had yet to "come up with any suggestions about how we could have done it more quickly, or better".
Four thousand witnesses were questioned, 400 days of hearings were held, while 14,000 pages of submissions from people affected by the judges' findings were studied before the final report was written: "It was a huge inquiry, and we did our best not to waste time, or money."
Conservative and Democratic Unionist MPs, however, were critical of the £100 million paid to lawyers, with DUP Upper Bann MP David Simpson saying the inquiry's cost made it likely that inquiries into other cases would not now happen.
Lord Saville and two other judges, former chief justice of New Brunswick in Canada William Hoyt and former Australian high court judge John Toohey were appointed in 1998 and took evidence up until 2004. Lord Saville said he hoped MPs did not believe the judges and lawyers involved had "sat around trying to make it last longer. We were desperate to finish".
Costs were increased because of the decision by the appeal court in London to allow soldiers and some other witnesses to give evidence in London rather than Derry.
Saying that "ten quid a night" might have been saved from some hotel bills, he went on: "With hindsight, we could have bought a house [ in Derry] and then sold it off at the end, but that is with hindsight."
The inquiry faced a difficult challenge to convince people in Derry, who had been angered by the Widgery tribunal's findings, that it was anything other than "a Brit tribunal", but this had been done by careful and dogged work by tribunal solicitors when they took statements from witnesses.
Questioned by Conservative MP, Mr Gavin Williamson, Lord Saville said he had decided "that this had to be thorough" and that the inquiry would have to look at the events on the day of Bloody Sunday, and before and after "with the greatest particularity".
"If you are going to have a thorough proper and fair inquiry - whether it is in to something like Mary Nelson or some of the others - it is going to cost necessarily a large sum of money and take a very long time," he said.
He defended the decisions to grant legal representation to soldiers and victims' families: "Our test always was what is fair, what is just. Unfortunately, lawyers, and I was one once, are expensive, very expensive. But the answer to that doesn't lie with me, or people like me conducting inquiries, it lies elsewhere," he said.
Defending the £4.5 million paid to Sir Christopher Clarke, the inquiry's lead counsel, Lord Saville said he was "at the very top of the commercial bar in 1998 when I asked him if he would be counsel to the inquiry and he accepted that as a matter of public duty" and he could have earned "two, or three times more" if he had not accepted the position.
The Commons Northern affairs committee, which is investigating the lessons to be learned from the inquiry, is now expected to call Northern Ireland Office officials to explain the size of the fees agreed with lawyers.
SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell complimented Lord Saville on the inquiry's report, saying he had "done an almost impossible task" which had removed "the dishonesty of the Widgery report" from the public record.