Ballymurphy inquest continues amid disclosure concerns

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The Ballymurphy massacre inquest has heard details of the murder of John McKerr, a 49-year-old joiner from nearby Andersonstown who had been working at Corpus Christi Church in west Belfast on August 11 1971 when he was shot.

Ten people were shot dead over 36 hours following the introduction of interment, in what has become known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

In testimony this week, a witness told the inquest she saw a British soldier crouched in a garden with smoke coming out of his gun as she ran with her young son from the scene of Mr McKerr’s shooting.

Members of the father-of-eight’s family travelled from England to be at Laganside courthouse last week for the first day of evidence into his death.

Sheila McAlliskey told the court she had seen Mr McKerr “standing at the railings” as she attended a Requiem Mass at the church with her mother and son during a break in what had been a day of shooting.

Ms McAlliskey said that Fr Francis Harper had run out shouting that someone had been hit and she turned to see him giving the last rites to Mr McKerr by the railings.

She told the coroner that she fled with her mother and son back to their home on nearby Ballymurphy Road.

“I saw a soldier kneeling at the corner... of Westrock Drive and Ballymurphy Road. (He was) in the back garden of the girl’s house.”

Ms McAlliskey showed the court how he was pointing his gun, which she said had smoke coming from the end, and that he refused to look at her as she “called him a murdering b*****”.

Another witness told the inquest how he cradled the head of the dying father-of-eight after he “fell at his feet”.

Francis Corr told the hearing that he and his wife had been on their way from their home in Ballymurphy to his mother’s house.

As they were walking from Ballymurphy Road onto Westrock Drive, a man came up alongside them close to the chapel railing.

Mr Corr said: “I heard a sudden, single shot and the man fell at my feet. I grabbed my wife by the arm and ran her to an alleyway and told her to stay there.”

Mr Corr said that when he ran back to help Mr McKerr he “was still breathing and making noises”.

“I lifted the injured man’s head. Blood was streaming out of him onto the road. There was grey matter coming out of the left hand side of his head.

“I shouted for someone to get a blanket or a pillow.”

Mr Corr said immediately after the shot was fired he looked around and saw a black soldier with a red beret standing in a garden at the corner of Ballymurphy Road “with his gun raised, pointing at us”.

The inquest continues next week.

US CONCERN

However, concerns are growing over issues at the inquest, including the withholding of key British Army records, as well as continuing British calls for a statute of limitations amnesty or special laws for their soldiers.

In the US, Congressman Eliot Engel has sent a formal letter to British Ambassador Kim Darroch.

Congressman Engel, who is under consideration to chair the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress, said he considered the Ballymurphy inquest to be a “fundamental test of justice in cases where British state forces are involved.”

Engel acted after meeting Carmel Quinn of the Ballymurphy Campaign and Relatives for Justice. He said he wanted justice to be done at the Ballymurphy Inquest.

“The inquest into these deaths has been described to us as a fundamental test of justice in cases where British state forces were involved. I have heard concerns that the inquest may fail to ensure that justice will be done, leaving open wounds from a conflict that all want to relegate firmly into the history books,” Engel wrote, in his letter to Darroch last week.

“I understand that there is growing apprehension among the Ballymurphy families that the Ministry of Defense may be deliberately withholding documents and disclosure items crucial to the investigation.

“Additionally, I am aware that some Britons have recently called for changes to the statute of limitations laws. Such changes could result in the absolution of anyone judged guilty and could fundamentally taint the inquest.

“As a Member of Congress who has a continuing interest in Northern Ireland, I am compelled to relay these concerns to you and would welcome any response you may have.”

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