Ballymurphy inquest ends public hearings

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The final oral evidence has been heard in a fresh inquest into the fatal shootings of 10 people in west Belfast almost 50 years ago.

Eye witnesses, forensic experts, former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and more than 60 former British soldiers, including the former head of the British Army, gave evidence at Belfast Coroner’s Court over the last 16 months.

Families of the victims and survivors of the 36-hour killing spree in August 1971 packed into court on Tuesday as they heard the final testimony in an inquest that has continued a fight for truth and justice that has lasted almost 50 years.

The inquest came to a conclusion after 100 days of court hearings, 15 months after proceedings opened in November 2018.

The events in the Ballymurphy area, which occurred as part of the British Crown Forces’ Operation Demetrius, came immediately after the introduction of internment without trial, a policy used to oppress and summarily imprison Belfast’s Catholic minority.

British military and government officials worked in tandem to cover up the truth of what happened. Relatives and the victims themselves have been falsely smeared as “terrorists”, while documents and other key evidence was falsified or simply “lost”.

The Ballymurphy massacre was a precursor to the Bloody Sunday killings six months later. The same British Army regiments were involved in the killing of 13 unarmed civilians in Derry in January 1972, when paras opened fire on a civil-rights march.

Shocking details have emerged over the course of the inquest, with British troops accused of being “out of control”. A witness testified that part of the skull of victim Henry Thornton was used as an ashtray by soldiers. And the court heard of a sickening competition in which money was put into a pot, the soldier making the first kill taking the winnings to spend on a “piss-up.”

Lawyers accused the British military of colluding to stymie the inquest in a “virtual wall of silence” by either refusing to testify altogether or suffering unexplained memory loss during questioning.

Squaddies from the support company 2 Para were accused of conspiring on Facebook by encouraging former soldiers not to co-operate.

Members of 2 Para were present when Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot dead on August 9 1971. It is believed soldiers from the unit discharged between 60 and 70 live rounds. Their killings were the subject of the final hours of the court hearing which heard testimony from soldiers under a shield of anonymity.

A former squaddie known as M1270 insisted he had not fired shots at, or even seen the pair on the waste ground where they were killed, despite a statement to the Royal Military Police taken soon after the incident contradicting that assertion.

Another former soldier, M1354, insisted he had no memory of being in the Springmartin area on August 9 1971. He denied a suggestion by a barrister for the Mullan and Quinn families that he was being deliberately unhelpful to the court.

Justice Keegan said at the close of Tuesday’s hearing that she anticipated that would be the end of the oral evidence. Medical reports are to be received in relation to two military witnesses who have requested to be excused from giving evidence in person.

Justice Keegan set a date of March 20 for final written submissions from legal representatives.

“There may be other little bits and pieces that I have to work out and I will obviously be reviewing as I go on ... but I anticipate that is really the end of the oral hearings after a long period of time,” she said.

“There will be ends to tidy up, I will be working on this fairly intensively to try and get something to all of you in the next number of months.”

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