ALDERSHOT MP Gerald Howarth and former paratroopers have condemned a new film about Bloody Sunday for the way it portrays British troops.

The controversial film, which is called Bloody Sunday, was shown to relatives of the dead this week and has sparked a huge row.

Mr Howarth said he is appalled at the film's timing as it comes just weeks before the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and while the Saville Inquiry into the tragedy is held in Londonderry.

Fourteen people died when paratroopers fired upon a civil rights march on January 30, 1972.

British soldiers have always maintained that the IRA shot at them before they opened fire, but witnesses and relatives of those who died have always disputed this.

Now the film, which was funded by £3 million from National Lottery, has angered former soldiers and Mr Howarth.

English director Paul Greengrass insisted Bloody Sunday was based on events and is not politically biased.

The film is centred round the civil rights campaigner Ivan Cooper who is played by Cold Feet star James Nesbitt. It will be televised on ITV on January 20.

But the film has sparked a row because in one scene it shows a para leaning over an unarmed protester and shooting him dead. One former soldier told a national newspaper: "These type of things, depicted in this way, just did not happen."

Mr Howarth, who admitted he had not seen the film, said: "No doubt the people of Aldershot will be very disappointed their money has gone towards this.

"What did the National Lottery think it was doing by funding this? From what I've been told Bloody Sunday is a film, not a documentary which concludes the paratroopers were guilty."

Mr Howarth claims the screening of the film was deliberately timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

"The timing is undesirable especially when the Saville Inquiry is trying to come to a conclusion as to what happened," added Mr Howarth.

Mr Howarth also fears the film could undermine the public's confidence in the Armed Forces at a time when they needed the nation's support.

Soldiers from the formerly Aldershot based Parachute Regiment have already been deployed in Afghanistan.

Mr Howarth added: "When the chips are down in Afghanistan they're called upon to represent us. They do it with huge distinction and put their lives at risk. What are these filmmakers doing and who are they?"

Mr Howarth continued: "Films like the Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan helped to reinforce respect for the Armed Forces but this is designed to achieve the reverse."

Last month the News reported how former paras, some of whom are still based in the News area, will not have to travel to the Saville Inquiry to give evidence in person.

The inquiry was set up in 1998 to investigate what led to the tragic events, but ex-soldiers who were there on that fateful day fear paramilitary reprisals if they travel to Londonderry.

Former soldiers lodged an appeal against a summons to appear before the inquiry and will now give evidence via video-link.