Ballymurphy inquest: Victims shot dead were innocent and their killings unjustified, coroner rules

Victims were ‘entirely innocent of any wrongdoing’ coroner says

Matt Mathers
Tuesday 11 May 2021 17:45
<p>Families hold placards of their loved ones who were killed in 1971</p>

Families hold placards of their loved ones who were killed in 1971

The families of 10 people shot dead by the Army in west Belfast 50 years ago in one of the bloodiest atrocities of the Troubles have welcomed a ruling that their loved ones were “entirely innocent”.

The ruling also found they were not members of a paramilitary group, had no weapons and did not pose a threat, a coroner has found.

Ms Justice Siobhan Keegan delivered her findings into what became known locally as the Ballymurphy Massacre at the International Conference Centre in Belfast (ICC) on Tuesday.

There were jubilant scenes outside Belfast Coroner's Court as the families of those shot in August 1971 emerged to cheers from supporters.

Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, claimed it was “British state murder”.

She tweeted: "The victims and the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre have been vindicated and the truth laid bare. This was British state murder."

Ten people, a mother of eight and a Catholic priest among them, were shot between 9 and 11 August 1971 as internment was introduced in Northern Ireland – a practice where paramilitary suspects were held indefinitely without trial.

Army veterans said they came under sustained attack as trouble flared on 9 August when troops moved into national areas to arrest IRA suspects.

The families of the deceased said their relatives were unarmed civilians who were shot by the army without justification.

The coroner acknowledged it was a chaotic time in Northern Ireland but ruled that the use of force by soldiers had been "disproportionate" in the nine deaths the Army was found as responsible for.

Ms Justice Keegan said there was not enough evidence for her to determine where the shot that killed the 10th victim, John McKerr, came from, but branded it "shocking" that there was no adequate investigation of the killing afterwards.

The families of those killed, who’ve been campaigning for decades to clear the names of their loved ones, hugged and applauded as the coroner read out her findings.

Parish priest Father Hugh Mullan, 38, and Frank Quinn, 19, were shot in the Springfield Park area of Ballymurphy around 9pm on 9 August. The coroner found they were killed by shots fired by soldiers and that the force used was not justified.

Around the same time, outside an army barracks at the Henry Taggart Hall in Divismore Park, Noel Philips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Joan Connolly, 44, and Daniel Teggart, 44, were fatally wounded by gunfire.

The coroner found these killings were not justified, and that the victims were "innocent" and unarmed. "The army had a duty to protect lives and minimise harm, and the use of force was clearly disproportionate," she said.

The following day, Eddie Doherty, 31, died after being shot in the Whiterock Road as he came across an encounter between soldiers and protesters who had erected a barricade across the road.

The coroner ruled that the use of force in shooting Doherty was disproportionate. She also rejected claims that he had been throwing petrol bombs at the time.

"He was an innocent man who posed no threat," she said.

In the fourth incident, on the third day of shooting, Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20, were shot in the Whiterock Road area in the early hours of the morning. Corr died from his injuries 16 days later.

The coroner said the military had failed to establish an adequate justification for the use of lethal force in killing Corr and Laverty.

She concluded that the two men were shot by the army and there was no evidence that they could have been shot by anyone else. She also rejected claims that the pair were gunmen who had been firing at soldiers.

Reacting to the findings, Sinn Fein deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said “today is their day” for the families.

She said: “For five decades they have campaigned with dignity and determination for the truth about what happened to their loved ones and despite all the setbacks they have kept going with such resilience and resolve,” she stated. “Today is their day; it is a day for truth.

“What happened in Ballymurphy was state murder and for decades the British government have covered it up. Now the truth has been laid bare for all to see.”

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said the findings have "cast a tremendous new light on one of the darkest pages of the history of the conflict".

He said the findings will come as an "immense relief and vindication for the families who have maintained for decades that their loved ones were innocent and their killings unjustified".

Alliance leader Naomi Long paid tribute to the families following their long campaign to clear their loved ones' names.

"The Ballymurphy families have had battle too hard and too long to finally hear that truth at today's inquest ruling into their loved ones' deaths," she tweeted.

"They have carried themselves with courage and fortitude throughout the last 50 years. This is vindication of their fight."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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