The British Army “don’t do conspiracies”, a former chief of staff has told the Ballymurphy inquest.
General Sir Mike Jackson, 75, was giving evidence to a fresh inquest into the disputed shooting incident in Belfast in 1971.
Ten civilians, including a mother of eight and a Catholic priest, were killed across three days from August 9 to 11 of that year.
The shootings came following the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.
Sir Mike was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on deployment in Belfast at the time.
He described his role then as community relations and press liaison.
Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the family of victim Joseph Corr, asked Sir Mike why soldiers involved in the shootings were not interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.
He put it to Sir Mike that there had been an attempt to “cover up” the shooting of Mr Corr and John Laverty on August 11.
Sir Mike responded: “It is a preposterous accusation to make which would require a huge number of people to be part of. It simply does not add up.
“It may be there was a breakdown in procedure, it may be that the whole system was overwhelmed by the mayhem of that week, I don’t know.
“But I do know we (British Army) don’t do conspiracies.”
Sir Mike appeared at a fresh inquest into the deaths of Mr Corr and Mr Laverty today.
He said he was part of an Army movement down Whiterock Road towards Springfield Road in the early hours of August 11, aimed at dismantling barricades.
He recalled a gun battle between the Army and the IRA which he said lasted two to three hours and involved 20 gunmen.
While he did not see the battle, he said he heard the shots, including the “distinctive thumping noise of a Thompson submachine gun” – a weapon then associated with the IRA.
Sir Mike described that type of gun as the weapon of the enemy.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the IRA were firing on soldiers and soldiers were firing on the IRA,” he said.
He later added: “Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones: for me it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy which is hugely regrettable, but I would also say that anybody who loses their lives as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy.
“I too have lost friends, so be it. My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”
The sister of a man killed in Ballymurphy has expressed disgust at evidence given by the Army’s former chief of staff to an inquest.
Carmel Quinn’s brother John Laverty was shot on the Whiterock Road in the early hours of August 11 1971.
General Sir Mike Jackson appeared at the inquest today to recall his memories of the incident. He was then a captain in the Parachute Regiment serving in Belfast.
He gave evidence about a newspaper report which labelled Mr Laverty and Joseph Corr, who was also shot and died, as gunmen.
Both their families have refuted that they were gunmen and the inquest heard no weapons were found on or near them.
Sir Mike told the inquest he accepts it was likely he was a captain quoted by the newspaper, and said the information had been fed to him by soldiers on the ground.
“In retrospect, of course I should have said ‘alleged’,” Sir Mike told the inquest.
Ms Quinn said she found his evidence “totally confusing”.
“Our John was 20-years-old when he was murdered by his soldiers,” she said speaking outside the inquest.
“They came into Ballymurphy to shock and stun the community, they murdered innocent people and they walked away with complete impunity, and as for the British, the British don’t do conspiracies, yes they do, they have done it constantly throughout this conflict.”
Mr Corr’s widow received hate mail from his former workmates at Shorts after he was labelled a gunman.
His daughter Eileen McKeown said: “If he had of put ‘allegedly shot dead’ in that article at that time, my mummy might not have got the hate mail she got from my daddy’s workmates, she got a letter which said ‘may your sub-human husband and his pals roast in hell’.”