On Thursday, the coroner at the inquest for 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in 1971 expressed concern that Alan Barry may have breached the law by appearing to “discourage those who may have relevant information to come forward”.
Mrs Justice Keegan was referring to a Twitter message in which the Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV) spokesman instructed former soldiers to claim a “total loss of memory” if subpoenaed to appear at the inquest.
In what became known by many as the Ballymurphy massacre, nine men and one woman were killed in shooting incidents over a three-day period in August 1971 – at a time of widespread disorder following the introduction of internment.
Michael Mansfield QC, who represents a number of the victims’ families, warned of a “widespread and deep concern from the families about what appears to be a boycott at what is a critical point of this inquest”.
At the time, the Army said all those killed were either armed IRA members or civilians caught in the crossfire between soldiers and gunmen.
In May this year, former loyalist paramilitaries claimed a UVF gunman was also firing into the Ballymurphy area from the neighbouring Springmartin estate.
However, the victims’ families are adamant that their relatives were deliberately shot dead by troops from the Parachute Regiment. Those military witnesses willing to assist the inquest are due to be called early in 2019.
On Wednesday, Mr Barry tweeted the message: “If you are subpoenaed by the Ballymurphy inquest then suffer from a total loss of memory.
“Tell them you can barely remember what you did yesterday let alone 40plus years ago, I’m sorry I can’t remember. I’m sorry I can’t remember!”
During the inquest proceedings yesterday, the coroner said: “I do regard this as a very serious matter – as a result, I have referred those comments to the attorney general in relation to potential contempt of court.”
However, Mr Barry later told the News Letter he stood by his comments.
“We have to make a stand,” he said.
“I watched that appalling documentary that Channel 4 aired about the Ballymurphy massacre, where they effectively accused British soldiers of going on a rampage and shooting innocent civilians.”
Mr Barry said there was anger among veterans that the deaths of soldiers were not being similarly investigated, and added: “We are not lying down and taking this anymore. It’s as simple as that.”