A claim that the British Army “don’t do conspiracies” by one its most infamous liars, General Mike Jackson, drew derision and frustration in equal measure at the inquest into the Ballymurphy massacre this week.
Jackson -- who was behind the cover-up for the Bloody Sunday massacre, and who also described innocent victims of the Ballymurphy massacre as “gunmen” -- faced questioning over the latter atrocity for the first time.
He described his role in 1971 as “community relations and press liaison”. When he asked in the courtroom why he had falsely described two victims of a shooting spree by the Parachute Regiment as having been armed, Jackson said: “I don’t know”.
On the back of the murderous reputation of the Paras, the low-ranking adjutant rose to the highest ranks of the British military and was knighted and honoured for services to the Crown. He became one of the most high-profile British Army generals since the Second World War, and has held the rank of Commander of Chief of British Land Forces.
On his first tour with the 1st Parachute Regiment, he was present at Ballymurphy in August 1971 and was then closely involved in the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972.
A litany of murder and brutality followed 1 Para during his tours, not only in Ballymurphy but on the Shankill Road and Bogside in Derry. This ‘culture of killing’ has come under close scrutiny during the Ballymurphy Inquest, as have the attempts by the British Army to cover up the actions of their soldiers.
In a newspaper article in the aftermath of the Ballymurphy killings, Jackson is quoted as saying “his men fought a two-hour gun battle with as many as 20 gunmen who were using a Thompson sub-machine gun, pistols and rifles. We killed two of them and recovered the bodies... we got another gunman and I think he is dying.”
Mr Jackson went on to play a similar role in the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry five months later, when 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by some members of the same units present in Ballymurphy.
He was responsible for the infamous “shot list” invented to justify the killings, labelling those gunned down as “gunman,” “nail bomber” and “petrol bomber.”
It claimed that all those killed by Parachute Regiment troops were armed, when in fact none of them were carrying weapons. The “shot list” was wired to every British embassy and consulate as part of the cover-up. Mr Jackson initially denied knowledge of the list during the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday.
The inquest has already heard horrific details of individual atrocities by the Parachute Regient. Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the family of victim Joseph Corr, asked Jackson why Paras involved in the shootings were not questioned at the time.
He put it to Jackson that there had been an attempt to cover up the murder of the two men who he had described as “gunmen”. John Laverty, who was 20, and Joseph Corr, who was 43, were shot dead on the upper Whiterock Road near Dermott Hill Road early on the morning of 11 August 1971. The inquest has heard that no weapons were ever found on their persons.
Mr Jackson responded: “It is a preposterous accusation to make which would require a huge number of people to be part of. It simply does not add up.
“It may be there was a breakdown in procedure, it may be that the whole system was overwhelmed by the mayhem of that week, I don’t know.”
He insisted a “thumping noise” he heard in the Ballymurphy area was the sound of IRA machine guns, firing on the British Army. But it was his claim on behalf of the British Army and MI5 that “we don’t do conspiracies” that drew groans of derision.
Pressed on why he described Laverty and Corr as gunmen, the retired General said he had been “fed information”. He added: “In retrospect, of course I should have said ‘alleged’.”
For the families, there was no surprise at the courtroom bravado.
“He should have said allegedly shot dead,” said Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr. Rita Bonner, John Laverty’s sister, added: “There was a conspiracy to hide the death of every one of our loved ones.”
John Teggart, son of Ballymurphy victim Danny Teggart, said that having the General take the stand was “a big day for the families.”
“We have been working all these years to change this narrative from Jackson,” he said.
“As the inquest continues, the evidence we have heard so far as been harrowing, it’s been really hard on the families – but we are one big family down there, down at the courts. Everybody is looking after each other as this continues and that is a massive help to us all.
“We are getting through this together.”