Inquest vindicates truth campaign for Barney Watt
Inquest vindicates truth campaign for Barney Watt


The widow of an unarmed Belfast civilian shot and killed by British soldiers in 1971 has lived to see a coroner clear his name after 46 years of disinformation and lies.

Bernard Watt’s widow, Teresa, and her son, Sean, were at the inquest into his shooting in Belfast this week in which the coroner ruled that the killing was “not justified”.

Known as Barney, the 28-year-old died after being shot by the British Army during a riot in Ardoyne, Belfast, in February 1971.

Contrary to British claims at the time, the coroner said that Mr Watt was not a member of any IRA group, nor was he holding any weapons.

The first inquest into his death was held in July 1971 and resulted in an open verdict. The current inquest was ordered in 2012.

Earlier this week, just hours before Coroner Joe McCrisken was due to deliver his report, a new witness came forward to give evidence about the shooting.

The witness, John McLaughlin, who was 14 at the time, told the inquest by video link that he remembered seeing a man standing with his hands in the air before hearing a crack and then he fell to the ground.

Mr McLaughlin described leaving his home at the time of the riot and was clearly able to see Mr Watt staggering and holding a lamp pole.

He saw him take his hands off the pole and put his hands up in a surrender motion, and was shouting. He he then heard a crack and the man fell to the ground. Mr Watt had been “murdered in cold blood”, he said.

“(Barney) put his hands up in a surrender motion and said ‘you haven’t killed me yet, you bastards’. Then he was shot and he went down. I have nightmares about it still.”

He says he left Belfast a year later and has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since.

Previously, one of the soldiers claimed he shot a man holding a bomb, who dropped a device which “exploded and blew him down the street”.

However, the soldiers’ claims were later dismissed by a former state pathologist, who found only that Mr Watt had been shot twice.

Coroner Joe McCrisken also dismissed claims from the soldiers that Mr Watt was throwing an explosive device when he was shot.

In his findings, Mr McCrisken described Mr Watt as a “hard-working man” with an “infectious personality”. He said he believed Mr Watt had taken part in rioting on the night he was killed.

However, he ruled: “I am satisfied, based upon the evidence available to me at inquest, that Barney Watt was not the man described by the soldiers holding the explosive device.

“Based upon the evidence presented at inquest the use of lethal force against Barney Watt by military personnel was not justified.”

Mr Watt’s widow Teresa said she was glad to have finally cleared her husband’s name. They were only married six years when he died.

Holding a photograph of their wedding day, she said: “I feel great. The last 46 years were difficult. I am glad it is all sorted and his name is cleared. I still have his pictures in the house. You never forget.”

Family lawyer Padraig O’Muirigh said: “This was a very strong judgment, in stark contrast to the original investigation, which was deeply flawed.”

He added: “The Watt family have fought for 46 years. Today we have a proper verdict which says Barney Watt was not a bomber and lethal force was not justified.”

Sinn Fein Assembly member welcomed the findings, which he said underlines the need for resources to be made available for such legacy inquests.

“Barney Watt’s family have waited for over 45 years for truth and acknowledgement of innocence. Hopefully today’s ruling will bring the family closer to finding the answers they are seeking into the killing of their loved one.

“All families should be entitled to truth, acknowledgement and justice.”

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