The failure of the British Ministry of Defence to trace any of the British soldiers present at the time of the 1971 Ballymurphy Massacre has infuriated the families of the victims.
British defence officials claimed they had “not yet been successful” in tracing any of the dozens of paratroopers present in Ballymurphy in August 1971 when 11 people lost their lives.
A letter sent to the families of the victims read: “Forty seven letters have been sent out to individuals and responses are awaited.” They also claimed they have been unable to “uncover any records within its control” to understand the operation.
Ten people were shot dead in the area in the three days after internment was introduced, among them a priest and a mother-of-eight. An 11th person died of a heart attack following a confrontation involving a soldier.
Adding to the sense of farce, the letter from the British Ministry of Defence went on to state that the “member of staff assigned to Ballymurphy has been reassigned to another inquest temporarily” and that the PSNI had advised that its resources for the legacy inquest process “are finite.”
However Eileen McKeown, whose father Joseph Corr was one of the 11 victims, said the soldiers’ names were on a list handed to the coroner in the original inquests in 1972.
She added: “We know for fact that the now scrapped HET (Historical Enquiries Team) has traced soldiers from these lists which would have been handed in at each inquest. We believe that Chief Constable George Hamilton is ignoring the families just like all his predecessors.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams expressed his “deep concern and anger” after being shown a copy of the letter.
Mr Adams said the matter deserved “the urgent attention” of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
He added: “The deliberate withholding of resources and the failure to speedily identify the soldiers present in Ballymurphy is evidence of a British government and MoD deliberately frustrating the families efforts.”
Relatives of the Ballymurphy victims have also expressed concern at developments in the setting up of the new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), which is supposed to take on outstanding cases from the Police Ombudsman and the HET.
Proposals for the HIU were revealed as part of the Stormont House Agreement last December. Talks between the Stormont parties about legislation to set up the independent body have continued in recent weeks, and a ‘Director Designate’ could be named shortly to head the body.
Janet Donnelly, whose father Joseph Murphy was one of those shot dead by the British army, attended a recent workshop on the HIU.
She believes no member of the British Crown forces, past or present, should be given a role in the body, about which little has yet been revealed.
“Where would the independence be?” she said. “Where would the trust be? There would be no trust.”
“I was not the only person with that opinion, a lot of people feel the same way and I think victims and families should be asked what they want and it has to be totally independent.”