Ballymurphy social media comment referred to Attorney General by Coroner

A coroner has referred a social media comment discouraging former soldiers from giving evidence to inquests into the killing of 10 people in west Belfast to the Attorney General.

Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan issued a stark warning during a sitting of the inquests into the killings, which have become known as the Ballymurphy massacre, during a hearing at Laganside Courts in Belfast on Tuesday after it emerged that an individual was discouraging former soldiers from giving evidence.

Inquests into the deaths of 11 people in August 1971 who were shot dead in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast.  ''Families members pictured outside the court in Belfast, from left to right: Janet Donnelly daughter'of Joseph Murphy, Marianne Phillips niece of Noel Phillips family and Briege Voyle daughter of Joan Connolly who gave statements of behalf of their families in court. ''Janet Donnelly daughter'Joseph Murphy family'. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Inquests into the deaths of 11 people in August 1971 who were shot dead in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast. ''Families members pictured outside the court in Belfast, from left to right: Janet Donnelly daughter'of Joseph Murphy, Marianne Phillips niece of Noel Phillips family and Briege Voyle daughter of Joan Connolly who gave statements of behalf of their families in court. ''Janet Donnelly daughter'Joseph Murphy family'. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

The inquests are examining the deaths of 10 people killed during shooting incidents involving the Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971.

On Tuesday, 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”.

He said former soldier Alan Barry, who is involved in the campaign group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV), advised soldiers involved not to cooperate with requests to attend the inquests.

The comments were reported in a newspaper on Friday and repeated in a different national newspaper on Monday, the first day of the inquest.

Mrs Justice Keegan expressed concern in learning about the media reports, saying: “I would like to remind people that cooperation is key to my role.

“If people refuse to cooperate I have the power to subpoena witnesses or draw adverse inference.

“It is not permissible for people to discourage those who may have relevant information to come forward.”

At the start of Thursday’s hearings, Mrs Justice Keegan told the inquest it had been brought to her attention that on Wednesday morning Mr Barry issued a message on social media advising former soldiers that if they are subpoenaed by the Ballymurphy inquest to say they “suffer from a total loss of memory”.

Mrs Justice Keegan told the inquest on Thursday that she has referred the comment to Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin.

“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,” she said.

Mrs Justice Keegan also told the inquest that the comments are “in conflict with the MoD”, who she said had been encouraging former soldiers to come forward and providing them with legal assistance to do so.