Inquests are to be opened into the deaths of 10 people shot dead by British troops in Belfast 40 years ago in what has become known as the “Ballymurphy Massacre”.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin, has written to the families confirming the fresh inquiries into the Parachute Regiment killings in the Ballymurphy area of the west of the city.
The shootings took place in August 1971 when internment without trial was introduced in a botched attempt to take paramilitaries off the streets.
The 10 civilian victims included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest, while an 11th victim is said to have died of a heart attack after being intimidated by troops.
The deaths came five months before soldiers from the same regiment killed 14 people in Derry in the Bloody Sunday shootings that were condemned by the Saville Inquiry.
John Teggart, whose father Daniel was one of those shot dead in the massacre, welcomed the decision to begin fresh hearings in the 10 inquests within months. “We commend the Attorney General for showing leadership and credibility,” he said.
He said the new inquests were necessary after the initial flawed investigations but added that the move would not end the families’ campaign for a full independent investigation into the Ballymurphy shootings.
“What we are getting at the moment is what we were entitled to in 1972 [when the original inquests place]. We are also entitled to a proper investigation, which we never got.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams described the decision as a “landmark legal judgment” which provides families with an opportunity to get to the truth over the deaths of their loved ones. Mr Adams said his party would continue to press for an inquiry into the 11th death at Ballymurphy.
He referred a string of other killings from the early 1970s linked to the Parachute Regiment, which included the shootings of a number of teenagers and two 12-year-old schoolchildren. “None of those killed had any connection to any armed group. They were all innocent civilians,” he said.
“The new inquests, held under different rules, provide the families with the possibility of getting to the truth. The inquests must now be held without delay and the families must be provided with the necessary resources to ensure that all of the facts are uncovered.”
West Belfast representative Alex Attwood, of the nationalist SDLP, also welcomed the announcement on the case. “The decision by the Attorney General on the Ballymurphy Massacre is a step in the right direction,” he said. “This decision vindicates the campaign of the families for truth and justice.
“This development, however, serves to confirm that it is a public, international inquiry that is needed to give the families the means to truth that their campaign demands.”
UPDATE: Families Statement
The Ballymurphy Massacre families welcome the decision by the Attorney-General to re-open 10 inquests relating to the death of our loved ones 40 years ago. We commend the Attorney-General for showing leadership and credibility in announcing that the inquests will be re-opened.
We feel that when he considered the facts surrounding the sham inquests which took place 40 years ago, his decision was the correct one. We regard the original sham inquests as a serious neglect of duty by everyone involved and leave a lot of questions to be answered.
A question that should be answered is why did the Coroner not compel the soldier’s to give evidence in person to the Coroner’s Court? In 1971 an agreement was reached between the GOC of the British Army and the Chief Constable of the RUC, whereby the interviewing of soldiers involved in murdering our loved ones was carried out by the Royal Military Police, another branch of the army ‘family tree’. How could any investigation have credibility when the people in the dock are investigating themselves?
The soldiers involved were helped to fabricate their accounts of what happened. There was no attempt to contrast these accounts with the evidence of numerous eye witnesses, particularly in relation to their justification for firing live rounds. The soldiers’ statements were simply accepted without question. Key civilian evidence and inconsistencies between the soldier’s accounts were withheld from the Coroner.
The lack of pre-inquest disclosure to the families or our legal representatives and the inability of the Coroner’s court to reach ‘findings’ is another indication of serious flaws with the original inquests.
All of these shortcomings mean that the original inquests into the deaths were so flawed that they could be regarded at best as a sham and at worst as a shameful cover-up!
There are a number of changes to the Coroner’s court in recent years which influenced the family’s decision to apply to the Attorney-General to re-open the inquests and provide the family with hope that the inquests will reach credible findings. These changes include the fact that:
- the inquests will have to comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR);
- the British soldiers involved in the killings can now be compelled to give evidence in person;
- the House of Lords has made it clear that the Coroner dealing with an inquest has a generous discretion in relation to the remit of an Inquest; and
- a jury will now be in a position to reach ‘findings’;
The families believe that that these inquests must be held without delay, with sufficient resources and funding provided to the Coroner and the families legal representatives to ensure that all of the facts are known.
The inquests will be re-opened into the deaths of Fr Hugh Mullan, Francis Quinn, Daniel Teggart, Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr. We are extremely disappointed that the death of Pat McCarthy will not be covered by these inquests. The death of Pat McCarthy was not investigated by the Coroner in 1971 because in all of the confusion and misinformation surrounding the Massacre, his death was recorded as a heart attack. However, we now know that Pat’s heart attack occurred as he was subjected to a cruel and terrifying mock execution, and what’s more, he was denied access to medical help which could have saved his life. We will continue to gather evidence and locate and record witness evidence to assist a further application to the Attorney-General in relation to the death of Mr McCarthy. We will continue in our quest to have the truth about Pat’s death to be a matter of historical record.
The families regard the re-opening of the inquests as a very important step on our journey for truth. But even a fully resourced and effective inquest will have limitations. It will be able to provide facts and gather crucial forensic, logistical and witness testimony evidence, but it will not be able to examines the causes, context and consequences of the Massacre and answer so many of the questions that must be answered. We believe that only an International and Independent Investigation can facilitate the discovery of the facts and provide an accurate historical account of the events of August 1971 on the streets of Ballymurphy.