Ballymurphy delight at inquest news
Ballymurphy delight at inquest news

The families of 11 people killed during a 36-hour rampage by British paratroopers 40 years ago have described a decision to reopen inquests into ten of the deaths as “a very important step on our journey for truth”.

The Ballymurphy Massacre Group, whose loved ones were killed in west Belfast in the aftermath of internment in August 1971, said it believed the inquests “must be held without delay”.

The ten people shot dead by soldiers included a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest. The original inquests returned open verdicts.

The families said they were delighted that Attorney General John Larkin had confirmed fresh probes into those victims’ deaths would be held. The new inquests will deal with the deaths of Fr Hugh Mullan, Francis Quinn, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr, John McKerr and Joan Connolly.

It was a rare chink of light for the families, who in recent years have pooled their resources to highlight the British government’s failure to address one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict.

Campaigner John Teggart, whose father Daniel died after he was shot 14 times -- leaving behind a family of l3 children -- said that the victims’ families were “absolutely ecstatic” at the news. “This is just the first step,” he said.

However, the families said they were disappointed that the inquest into the death of Pat McCarthy would not reopen. His inquest will remain closed, with the finding that he died of a heart attack after being intimidated by troops.

Relatives said they regarded the bogus inquests of 1972 as “a serious neglect of duty by everyone”.

In a statement the group said of the original inquests: “There was no attempt to contrast [soldiers’] accounts with the evidence of numerous eyewitnesses, particularly in relation to their justification for firing live rounds.

“The soldiers’ statements were simply accepted without question. Key civilian evidence and inconsistencies between the soldiers’ accounts were withheld from the coroner.”

The families have spent years campaigning for an international, independent inquiry into the deaths and submitted new evidence to Mr Larkin in October last year.

Padraig O’Muirigh, a lawyer for the families, said the new inquests would be “significantly different” from the original hearings and that Coroner John Leckey could now compel the soldiers to testify. Some of the soldiers had already been traced, he said.

“The coroner has to decide whether he will hold all ten inquests together,” he said.

“I have written to the coroner regarding when he wants to hold a preliminary enquiry. We will be keen to push this on without delay.”

Briege Voyle, a daughter of Mrs Connolly, said she was “delighted”.

“It is a starting point,” she said. “It was us who put the evidence together. If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t be sitting here.

“Hopefully when we get the results which we want out of this we will be pushing for an international, independent investigation.”

Ms Voyle said the group was extremely disappointed at the decision about Mr McCarthy’s inquest.

However, she said the group would “continue to gather evidence and locate and record witness evidence to assist a further application to the attorney general”.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who strongly backed the campaign from its inception, said the “landmark legal judgment would provide families with an opportunity to get to the truth about their loved ones’ deaths.

He said his party would continue to press for an inquiry into the 11th death at Ballymurphy.

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