Ten gunshot deaths in 1971 military operation at Ballymurphy had no IRA involvement, according to coroner’s rules
TEN people shot dead in an army operation in 1971 were “completely innocent”, a court ruled.
Relatives and relatives of those killed in the ‘Ballymurphy Massacre’ in West Belfast applauded and cried in relief when the coroner’s verdict was delivered.
Madam Justice Keegan said there had been a “highly charged and difficult environment” as the internment was introduced and the suspects were arrested.
But she said there was no longer any question that the ten dead, including a mother of eight and a priest, were “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question.”
She said nine of those who died were shot dead by the military in five incidents in three days.
None of those who died, she added, were involved in paramilitaries, which was claimed at the time.
The verdict, delayed due to the pandemic, came more than two years after the investigation was opened.
FIVE EVENTS SURVEYED
He had looked into the final moments of the parish priest, Father Hugh Mullan, 38, and Frank Quinn, 19, were killed in the Springfield Park area on August 9, 1971.
Noel Philips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Joan Connolly, 44, and Daniel Teggart, 44, were also fatally shot outside Henry Taggart Hall barracks in Divismore Park on the same day.
On August 10, Eddie Doherty, 31, was shot dead near a barricade in the Whiterock Road area.
And on the third day of the investigation, Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20, were shot dead in the Whiterock Road area, while former Private John McKerr, 49, was shot dead in Westrock Drive .
The Corner told the crowded audience that Father Mullan and Mr. Quinn were killed by soldiers.
She said that the force used by 1st The battalion’s parachute regiment was not justified.
Father Mullan died “from gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen” and Mr. Quinn died “from a single gunshot wound to the head,” she said.
She added that there was no evidence that Mr Quinn had a gun or was near anyone with a gun and that Father Mullan was a “peacemaker” carrying a white object. at the time he was shot.
Madam Justice Keegan said there was sufficient evidence the two were trying to rescue a person injured at the time.
She concluded, in the case of the two men, that “the use of force was manifestly disproportionate”.
She added that the deadly shooting at Henry Taggart Hall could not be justified and that the victims were “innocent” and unarmed.
‘POSING NO RISK’
She admitted that the army had been the target of gunfire in the area at the time, but that these men “presented no risk”.
The coroner said the claim that 33 rounds of ammunition were found in a pocket on clothing worn by Daniel Taggert was not “proven”.
And she ruled that Mr. Doherty’s shooting at a barricade was disproportionate.
She rejected claims that he threw gasoline bombs at the time.
She said, “He was an innocent man who posed no threat.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Doherty was caught up in what happened in this incident and lost his life as a result.”
In the case of Joseph Corr and John Laverty, she said the military failed to explain why lethal force was used.
She rejected claims that the two men were gunmen who had shot at soldiers.
She said: “There is no evidence that guns were found on or near any of these two men.”
“ WRONG TO DESCRIBE AS GUNMEN ”
The coroner added: “It was wrong to describe these two men as armed men and this rumor should be dispelled.”
She said former Private John McKerr was an entirely innocent man.
In his case, there was not enough evidence to know whether the bullet that killed him came from the military or the paramilitaries, the coroner said.
She noted that Mr. McKerr was a “proud soldier” and claims that he was associated with the IRA caused great pain to his family for the next five decades.
EX-SOLDIER DOES NOT HAVE AN IRA LINK
She said, “I can dispel this rumor and suspicion once and for all.”
The coroner said there was evidence of a small number of IRA gunmen in the Ballymurphy area at the time, but none of those killed were among them.
She said the military’s use of force was disproportionate in the circumstances and the state had failed to demonstrate that it was justified.
Madam Justice Keegan said: “The military had a duty to protect lives and minimize damage, and the use of force was clearly disproportionate.”
The court had heard nearly 100 days of testimony from more than 150 witnesses.
These included more than 60 former soldiers, more than 30 civilians, and experts in ballistics, pathology and engineering.
Speaking after the hearing, John Teggart, whose father Danny was one of the killed, said that “we are just ordinary Ballymurphy’s families, but we have held the UK government and the Ministry of Defense accountable “.
“The truth is more powerful than any government.
“We hope that today will give strength to all other families who, like us, seek truth and justice.
“It can be done, don’t give up.”
Justice Minister Naomi Long said the families “must have fought too hard and for too long” for the verdict.
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill said “the families have been confirmed.
“For five decades, they campaigned with dignity and determination for the truth about what happened to their loved ones and despite all setbacks, they continued with such resilience and determination.
“Today is their day – it is a day for the truth.
“What happened in Ballymurphy was state murder and for decades the British government covered it up. Now the truth has been revealed to all.
“But this British government is still trying to slam the door to closed justice in the face of these families and others killed by the state or as a result of collusion.
‘CANNOT BE ABOVE THE LAW’
“As the findings of the inquiry read, the British government announced its intention to legislate to conceal its role in the conflict and to put current and former British soldiers beyond justice and the law.
“British state forces cannot be above the law. We have to face the past, including the role of the British state, and the Stormont House agreement must be implemented immediately.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the investigation had enabled those who were killed and who were innocent “to move their cases forward” and to move forward a legacy process was needed that “allowed to innocent victims – in particular those who have been victims of terrorism – to have the possibility of access to justice “.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was “inspired by the fearless dedication of these families.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said “the legacy of violence in Northern Ireland remains a deep wound”.
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Shadow NI secretary Louise Haigh said the families’ 50-year wait was “a profound failure of justice.”
A British government spokesperson said: “We take note of the coroner’s findings, long awaited by the bereaved families of the deceased, the military and their loved ones.
“We recognize how difficult the process was for all who were affected by the events of August 1971 and the investigation. We will now take the time to review the report and carefully consider the conclusions drawn.”