IRA aimed ‘heavy and sustained fire’ at soldiers, Ballymurphy Massacre inquest hears

A former soldier has told the Ballymurphy inquest that IRA men subjected the soldiers’ base in the estate to “heavy and sustained fire” over a period of hours.

The inquest is examining the circumstances of the death of 10 people who were shot in west Belfast over three days following internment on 9 August 1971.

Witness M97 was a Lance Corporal in B Company 2 Para based in the Henry Taggart Hall on the Springfield Road, the BBC reported.

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He was giving evidence about the date on which four people died as a result of the gunfire on 9 August 1971, the date on which internment was introduced.

The four people who died at Ballymurphy on the date of internment were Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Joseph Murphy and Daniel Teggart.

Their families have always denied that they were armed or posing any threat to the soldiers.

M97 said he had been tasked to carry out an arrest on the first morning of internment, but that the suspect had left the before they got there.

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Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were based at Henry Taggart Army base, a converted community centre in the Ballymurphy estate.

He said there was sustained rioting outside his base for the rest of the day, the BBC reported him as saying.

At times, he said he had climbed a ladder inside the hall where a ventilation hole enabled him to see the rioters.

The inquest hear he fired rubber bullets from this position when the crowd seemed to get too close to their base.

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He described the base coming under sporadic gunfire, and a hail of missiles including rocks, bricks, chisels, and even an axe, the BBC reported.

At one point, he said, a soldier in a sangar had to withdraw, as it was too dangerous for him to stay there.

In the evening, he said he was up the ladder when he saw four or five men coming down the Springfield Road, with weapons such as rifles and AK47s.

It was like something “from a movie scene” he said.

One of the men looked a bit like an IRA suspect he had encountered before, he said.

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Moments later, when heavy gunfire broke out, M97 said that he slid down the ladder, lifted his own SLR and went to a window alongside other soldiers looking towards the Manse area.

“Being up a ladder with bullets flying past and bits of debris and tiles and glass is not the safest place to be.” he said.

He broke a hole in the window with his weapon and fired through it.

He thought the gunmen were firing and moving on the waste ground.

He said he had fired at muzzle flashes.

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M97 confirmed that he had not shouted a warning but believed he had obeyed the conditions of the yellow card issued to soldiers, and which set out when they could open fire.

The gunfire was so loud, he said, that it would not have been heard anyway.

“You couldn’t even hear the guy next to you, let alone anyone 150 yards away,” he said.

The former soldier said that the exchanges of gunfire lasted for some hours but he had not fired again.

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He believes there were many more gunmen than he had seen, firing from several different directions, including the Manse, New Barnsley and the Moyard area.

Later, he said, he helped carry casualties into the hall after other soldiers had gone out and retrieved them from the area.

He told the court that some of them were coherent and asking for help with their injuries.

M97 said that he does not remember giving a statement to the Royal Military Police after the incident, but is certain he would have had to account for the rounds he fired.

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Later, M97 was asked why no other military witness or any of the records mention him seeing the group of armed men.

M97 said he didn’t shout out at the time because the shooting started so quickly, but thinks he did mention it later.

He replied, “I’m sure I did, I think it was viewed that it was of no interest.” the BBC reported.

A barrister for the Teggart and Phillips families said to M97: “You could have killed someone couldn’t you?”

“Possibly” said M97.

“You really don’t know, do you?” asked the barrister. “No.” the former soldier replied.

M97 has now completed his evidence.

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