Veteran not prosecuted for Ballymurphy inquest ‘contempt’ tweets

A former solider will not be prosecuted over social media posts despite the messages being considered to be in contempt of the Ballymurphy inquest proceedings.

Monday, 28th January 2019, 5:35 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:21 pm
Alan Barry pictured at a Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans rally

In November last year, as the coroner’s hearing opened in Belfast, military veterans’ campaigner Alan Barry urged those veterans subpoenaed to give evidence to “suffer from a total memory loss”.

Between August 9 and August 11 in 1971 there was serious disorder on the streets of Belfast in response to the introduction of internment without trial, with ten people shot dead in west Belfast.

Although the deaths have long been attributed to members of the Parachute Regiment and Queen’s Regiment, the accepted narrative became clouded earlier last year when former UVF members came forward to claim their organisation was also involved in a gun battle with the IRA at the time.

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Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan described Mr Barry’s intervention as “a very serious matter,” and said: “As a result, I have referred those comments to the attorney general in relation to potential contempt of court.”

Mr Barry was unrepentant – telling the News Letter he stood by his comments and had no regrets.

Having considered the matter, the Northern Ireland Attorney General (AG) has decided a prosecution is not in the public interest.

A letter to Mr Barry’s solicitor last week stated: “The Attorney General considered that although the evidential test for contempt proceedings was satisfied it would not be in the public interest to so in light of your client’s apology and the apparent absence of any adverse effect that can be attributed to your client’s tweets.”

Mr Barry said he feels the “running commentary” on social media around the inquest is awash with “spurious claims and accusations” against the soldiers.

“When I got that letter [from the AG], I sent a very robust response, which was that the Ballymurphy families and witnesses of the inquest went on to national television, two months before the inquest started, and effectively made statements...accusing the army of murder, accusing soldiers of indiscriminately shooting their relatives. There is a running commentary being given every day from the coroner’s court...using Twitter.”

The ex-soldier added: “In my opinion, the real reason they haven’t prosecuted me is not that it’s not in the public interest. I think it’s because if they prosecuted me then they would have to go after the [Ballymurphy] family members as well.”

The NI Attorney General’s office said all members of the public are entitled to attend inquest hearings unless the court directs otherwise.

“It is the usual practice of the Attorney General to communicate his decisions in contempt cases to the person or persons who may face proceedings.

“It is, of course, open to such persons to make the Attorney General’s reasons more generally available but the attorney does not consider that he should normally do so.

“In any case in which contempt proceedings are brought the public would, unless the court were to order otherwise, be entitled to attend any hearing.”