Gerry Adams and former army chief Sir Mike Jackson among inquest witnesses

Fresh inquests into the fatal shootings of 10 people in west Belfast in 1971 came following two decades of campaigning by the bereaved families.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 7:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 12:28 pm

They contend the deaths in the Ballymurphy area were never thoroughly investigated.

One woman and nine men were killed in five separate incidents between August 9 and 11 involving the Army at a time of high tension following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.

Soldiers were greeted by disorder and violence as they moved into republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects from the early hours of August 9 when the policy came into effect.

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Pacemaker Press 29/10/10 Pictures after the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971, President Gerry Adams revealed that a submission is to be handed to the attorney General John Larkin asking him to establish new inquests into the killings under section 14 of the Coroner's act 1959 Pic Colm Lenaghan

That there was disorder was not disputed, however the inquest heard conflicting views on whether the IRA had been present at any or all of the incidents.

Former members of the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force have claimed their organisation was also involved.

The families of those killed – who included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest – contend they were innocent, unarmed civilians shot by soldiers without justification.

They have expressed hope the inquest findings will clear their names.

Presiding coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan started hearing fresh inquests into the deaths in November 2018.

Eye-witness accounts and forensic evidence were heard and more than 60 former soldiers appeared at Belfast Coroner’s Court across 100 days of oral hearings which concluded in March 2020.

Former head of the British Army General Sir Mike Jackson and previous Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams were among the witnesses.

In August 1971 Sir Mike was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on deployment in Belfast acting as community relations and press liaison.

He dismissed a suggestion that there had been an attempt to “cover up” the shooting of two of the 10 – Joseph Corr and John Laverty on August 11 – in reference to some soldiers involved in the shootings having not been interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.

“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,” he told the inquest.

“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 contended that during the incident on the Whiterock Road on August 11 soldiers had been in a gun battle with the IRA.

“I have absolutely no doubt that the IRA were firing on soldiers and soldiers were firing on the IRA,” he said.

During his appearance at the inquest in May 2019, Gerry Adams denied membership of the IRA and said while he did not have direct knowledge of the Provisional IRA’s actions, he understood it ordered no engagement with the British Army on August 9.

He said there had been a rumour in the area that a gunman from the Official IRA had fired on the Henry Taggart Memorial Hall where the Army was based, but added that the “bush telegraph” in those days was “sometimes accurate and sometimes inaccurate”.

He said it had been a “sensible decision” by the Provisional IRA not to “engage the British Army”, for the “safety of the community and safety of the volunteers”.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

How events unfolded in Ballymurphy in August 1971

By Rebecca Black, PA

A mother of eight and a Catholic priest were among ten people fatally wounded in disputed shootings involving the army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast between August 9-11 1971.

The scenes came at a chaotic time across Northern Ireland following the controversial decision to implement internment without trial in response to the start of the Troubles.

Findings following fresh inquests into the 10 deaths will be delivered by Coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan on Tuesday.

This is how events unfolded.

August 9

Soldiers were dispatched in the early hours to arrest scores of people regarded as IRA suspects as internment without trial came into effect.

They were met with disorder across Northern Ireland.

That evening, at Springfield Park in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast, parish priest Father Hugh Mullan, 38, died after being caught in gunfire as he went to the aid of a wounded man.

Frank Quinn, 19, was also fatally wounded as he tried to help Fr Mullan.

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

August 10

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

August 11

Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20, were shot in the Whiterock Road area in the early hours of the morning.

Mr Corr died 16 days later from his injuries.

Former soldier John McKerr, 49, was shot later that morning on Westrock Drive close to Corpus Christi Church as he took a break from maintenance work.

He died of his injuries on August 20.

An 11th person, Paddy McCarthy, 44, was shot in the hand at a community centre.

He later died of a heart attack.

His death was not included in the fresh inquests.