A former British soldier backs calls for prosecutions for the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971, when eleven unarmed civilians were killed by the British Army, among them Father Hugh Mullen, shot in the back after going to the aid of another casualty, and Danny Teggart, who was shot 14 times.
By Richard Rudkin
The events of Bloody Sunday are well documented. Forty-five years ago on Sunday January 30 1972, 13 people were shot and killed by the British army in Londonderry.
After 38 years of campaigning for justice, the Saville Report, published in 2010, unequivocally blamed the soldiers of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment.
David Cameron, then prime minister, apologised to the victims of Bloody Sunday on behalf of the British government. His apology sparked a chain of events culminating in the Northern Ireland police arresting a former soldier on a charge of murder. Reactions to the arrest were mixed. Families of those murdered welcomed the decision stating: “It was a step in the right direction.”
By contrast the Daily Telegraph claimed in a headline: “Paras were betrayed over arrest of former soldier.”
Almost predictably, ex-service personnel who had served in Northern Ireland claimed it was a slap in the face for the service they gave. Others questioned why, under the 1998 Good Friday agreement, anyone convicted of paramilitary crimes became eligible for early release, yet former soldiers who have been responsible for killings could be investigated and possibly charged with murder.
Where is the fairness in that, they ask? A question I have asked many times over many years but not in the same context.
For I am a former soldier and went to Londonderry in 1972, days after my 18th birthday. I spoke with soldiers who had been at the civil rights march in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday. Some told me shots had been fired by troops from the Derry walls into the crowd below. Was it true or were they just spinning stories? If it’s true, where is the fairness in that?
Later that year in August, I was based in the Falls Road area of Belfast. I witnessed things that changed not only my political views for life but also my view on the role of the British army in Northern Ireland.
This left me speaking out against some of my former colleagues on methods used and treatment of the Catholic population. So not only do I welcome the investigation into those killed by the British army but I too want justice for the families.
However, for the relatives of the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre, who have been waiting almost 46 years, justice is yet to be done. So where’s the fairness in that?
When Operation Demetrius was launched in the early hours of Monday August 9 1971, the purpose was to “lift” known IRA members.
However, it was evident from the start that the operation was not going to plan.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary’s intelligence was found to be inaccurate and the wrong houses were raided and in some cases the “target” had left the area. In all, approximately 340 people were arrested and taken in for “screening.”
Although released without charge some time later, many were traumatised because of what they had experienced and some even turned their support towards the IRA.
But the tragedy of the events that commenced on that August morning was not about the treatment given to those arrested -- although that may well have been bad enough -- but about the 36 hours that followed, by the end of which 10 civilians would lay dead, having been shot by the British army with an 11th person dying from a heart attack following a mock execution. Despite claims by the soldiers that they came under fire, not one weapon was recovered.
Among the dead was a priest, Father Hugh Mullen, who was shot in the back after going to the aid of another casualty, a mother of eight, Joan Connolly. She too was going to help the injured and another victim, father of 14 Danny Teggart, shot 14 times -- that’s not a typo. Surely questions have to be asked? If not where’s the fairness in that?
Nine of the victims were shot by the Parachute Regiment who would go on to be involved in the tragic events of Bloody Sunday five months later. There is little doubt that if, like Bloody Sunday, all the shootings had occurred on the same day, the Ballymurphy Massacre would have a higher profile which would also help the victims’ families get the justice they deserve.
Moreover, as a former soldier, I would argue if the events of these three days had been fully investigated and justice done, Bloody Sunday may never have occurred.
There was no Royal Ulster Constabulary investigation. The military police were the only official body to question and take statements from the soldiers involved in the shootings. It would be interesting to read the soldiers’ statement on why 14 shots had to be fired at one person and why a priest, walking away from the soldiers, posed such a threat to life that the use of lethal force was justified.
By failing to uphold justice, the government sent a clear message to the British army that they could virtually take any action they liked without having to face the consequences.
The relatives of the victims continue their fight for justice despite their first meeting with the secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire in September 2016 ending in disappointment after the families walked out claiming Brokenshire had failed to answer any questions.
Nevertheless all the families that have had relatives killed by the British army in Northern Ireland, in circumstances that, being polite “gave cause for concern,” must receive justice.
In Northern Ireland, the British army operated under the orders set out on the “Yellow Card,” which all soldiers carried.
The orders contained such items as power of arrest and opening fire.
So to answer those opposed to former soldiers being investigated: if they can demonstrate how they complied with the “Yellow Card” then surely there is no problem. However, if there are discrepancies it must be for the courts to decide, based on evidence to determine if a crime was committed.
If found guilty, then the appropriate sentence should be given. If not, where’s the fairness in that?