The Ballymurphy massacre families have welcomed the opening in Belfast of the preliminary stage of the inquest into the August 1971 killings in which eleven people died at the hands of the British Army over the space of three days.
Ten of the victims were shot dead by members of the Parachute Regiment just months before the same regiment was involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre which resulted in the deaths of a further 14 innocent civilians in Derry.
One victim was a priest who was shot by a sniper as he attempted to go to the aid of a wounded man. Another victim who does not come under the terms of the inquest, Paddy McCarthy, died from a heart attack after a Para put an empty gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Similar to the initial Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the first inquest into the Ballymurphy killings was dismissed by the families as a travesty and a whitewash because of the failure to call many civilian witnesses. A fresh inquest was ordered in 2011 following a long campaign by the family.
Coroner Jim Kitson as part of the inquest will decide if one of the 11 victims should be exhumed to help determine if a British soldier shot him sometime after he had been wounded, detained and brought to a British Army barracks in west Belfast.
The victim’s daughter said this week that inside the base a soldier shot him directly into an “open wound” he had already suffered.
Mark O’Connor, lawyer for the family of 41-year-old Joseph Murphy who was shot on August 9th but survived for 13 days, told Mr Kitson he was seeking the exhumation of Mr Murphy’s body.
On his death bed Mr Murphy told his wife Mary, who is still alive aged 82, that he was shot outside the Henry Taggart British army base in west Belfast. Mr Murphy told his wife when he was brought inside the base that he was shot again by one of the soldiers, said the solicitor.
The families have long contended that a number of the victims were also shot and beaten in the Henry Taggart base after the initial shootings. After the inquest concluded yesterday Mr Murphy’s daughter Janet Donnelly explained why they wanted the exhumation.
“There was a bullet left in my father’s body and it was not mentioned in the autopsy report,” she said.
“My father claimed to have been shot inside the Henry Taggart base. He thought it was a rubber bullet and that it was shot into an open wound,” she said.
The information about the alleged second shooting emerged from a relatively recent investigation by the Historical Enquiry Team which inquires into past killings of the Troubles.
“I believe it wasn’t a rubber bullet, that it was a live round,” said Ms Donnelly, who added that her father also said he was badly beaten inside the Henry Taggart base. He had a leg amputated after the shooting but died from his injuries.
The coronor will also seek to determine were any soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday also involved in the Ballymurphy killings. He is due to decide later this month when the full inquest can proceed.
Karen Quinlivan, QC, representing most of the families said there was “large body of civilian evidence which was not collected by police at the time”.
New evidence obtained by the families include eyewitness statements, archives from the church and inquest verdicts. Accounts from the church include a “serving member of the British army, a member of the British Navy who returned to his ship shortly after the shootings, and an ex-Irish guardsman”.
For years the victims’ families have demanded to know the truth about what happened.
In November 2012 there were a furious response when the inquests were adjourned because of potential concerns over ‘national security’.
The families have called for an independent panel chaired by the North’s former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan to carry out a separate inquiry into the killings. The British government has so far refused.