British soldiers seen not co-operating with inquest

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A former British Army soldier has been accused of “choosing not to help” an inquest into the killing of a Derry mother shot dead in her garden, while another claimed former soldiers were being “persecuted” over state killings.

The new inquest into the killing of 47-year-old Kathleen Thompson resumed last week following delays over attempts to locate and identify the British soldiers involved.

At least five platoons of the British Army are understood to have taken part in the operation which arrested seven men in the Creggan area of Derry in November 1971, and during which Mrs Thompson was killed.

At the start of the proceedings this week Ian Skelt QC, counsel for the coroner, said there was “dissatisfaction” in the way the case was handled, and the Attorney General had ordered a new inquest in 2013.

He said the initial hearing had heard from a former soldier, identified only as Soldier D, who “accepted firing into the back garden at the time she died”.

However, British military witnesses called to testify this week have expressed little or no knowledge of the incident.

One former soldier denied an order had been issued to “shoot first, ask questions later” during the operation, while another claimed a ricochet or a gunman could have been to blame for Ms Thompson’s death.

Brigadier Guy de Vere Hayes, who was adjutant of the 2nd Royal Green Jackets regiment stationed in Ballykelly in November 1971 and responsible for investigations into British Army shootings, said “there was an awful lot of shooting incidents at the time” and that he had no recollection of the killing of Mrs Thompson.

Another soldier alleged to have been involved in a ‘training course’ which took part in the arrest operation, said he did not recall any of the events surrounding the death. He also bizarrely claimed to have gone AWOL when the shooting occurred –– a claim disproved by military records. He also insisted he had no memory of the training exercise, or that a promotion he received afterwards was linked to the course.

Karen Quinlivan QC, barrister for the Thompson family, said: “Soldiers on this course were sent out as part of an operation, an arrest operation. In the course of that operation one soldier fired shots into a back garden and Kathleen Thompson was killed in the course of that operation.

“Evidence suggests that people on that course were present when that happened.”

The barrister said it seemed “you are choosing not to help” the inquest, which the former soldier denied. But he blankly said he had no recollection of the events, or that he had never patrolled in the Creggan.

He said: “I don’t remember any of this. I’m not going to differentiate from that.”

The inquest resumes next week.

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