Relatives dying before seeing justice for victims


A coroner’s court has found the British Army had no justification for shooting dead 25-year-old Joseph Parker at a Christmas dance in north Belfast in 1971. His wife, who was pregnant with their second child at the time, died before she could hear his shooting declared “not justified”.

The 25-year-old was fatally shot in the thighs after a patrol of soldiers entered a dance at Toby’s Hall in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast in 1971. He had an 18-month-old daughter and his wife was heavily pregnant with their second child at the time.

The coroner’s court in Belfast was told that on the evening of Mr Parker’s death on December 10, around 100 people were at the dance when soldiers entered in search of an individual they said they wished to speak to.

Witnesses said the atmosphere became hostile as some members of the crowd shouted at the soldiers to get out.

One soldier fired shots at the ceiling while another soldier then shot randomly into the crowd, killing Mr Parker. The Ardoyne man had been enjoying the dance with his sister, uncle and friends.

Coroner Joseph McCrisken said yesterday: “I am satisifed that this shot was fired deliberately but that Mr Parker was not deliberately targeted, in other words, this soldier was acting recklessly when he fired shots at such a low level in a hall full of civilians.

“I have not been presented with any evidence which suggests that Mr Parker posed any threat, either direct or indirect, to the military patrol.”

He concluded: “I am satisfied, therefore, that the force used against Joseph Parker was not justified since he posed no threat to members of the patrol.”

Mr Parker’s wife, Dorothy, has since died. Their two daughters Joanne and Charlene were present in court throughout the inquest, which took place over two weeks in November.

A lawyer for the family said they are now considering whether to bring a civil case against the Ministry of Defence. Lawyer Padraig O Muirigh read a statement outside court on behalf of the family.

It said: “Today we are elated that our father’s name has been cleared and our only regret is that our mum is not here to witness it.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the ruling was a complete vindication for his family who have campaigned for so long to see this day.

“They should not have had to wait almost 50 years for the truth to come out,” he said.

“They, and many other families in a similar position are being re-traumatised by a British Government which is still blocking the implementation of agreed legacy mechanisms and withholding funds for legacy inquests.”


Meanwhile, a woman whose son was killed by loyalist paramilitaries after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement has urged the British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire to make sure he is not forgotten.

Brian Service was murdered on Alliance Avenue in Belfast in 1998. His mother, Ann, who is 78, is calling for proposed legacy institutions from the 2014 Stormont House Agreement to be put in place while she is still alive.

In September, the North’s police ombudsman said some inquiries could take up to 20 years to complete due to a shortage of resources. Mrs Service has written an open letter to Mr Brokenshire, saying she does not have 20 years to wait.

“I can’t wait that long, I don’t have the time,” she writes.

Mrs Service said that since his death, she and her family have been treated as if “Brian’s life and death did not matter”. No one has ever been convicted of the murder. She has appealed to Mr Brokenshire to make sure that the institutions proposed in the Stormont House Agreement do not “once again” fail victims’ families.

She said the murders of hundreds of people made headlines for a day, but were then forgotten by all but their family and friends. Mrs Service said of her son: ‘‘When they told me he was dead I just wanted to lie down on the ground where he died alone to be close to him even for a moment.’’

She pointed out that her family has been unable to learn any more about his death since the day he was shot.

“My husband, Davy, died four years ago knowing no more about what happened to our son than we did when they came to our house at 7am that day to tell us he was dead. Please don’t let us be forgotten all over again”.

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