The families of the Ballymurphy massacre victims have rejected a British letter of apology and have called for the disbandment of the regiment responsible for the slaughter of their loved ones.
They were speaking out in the wake of a historic inquest judgement delivered on Wednesday at the coroner’s court in the International Conference Centre in Belfast.
After decades of campaigning and an inquest that lasted three years, Justice Keegan ruled that all of the victims of the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre by British Army paratroopers were “entirely innocent” and that the killings were “unjustified”
It was a joyous scene outside the court as families emerged into the sunshine holding placards with the faces of their loved one with the words “innocent” written on each one: Father Hugh Mullan, 38, Frank Quinn, 19, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Joan Connolly, 44, Daniel Teggart, 44, Eddie Doherty, 31, Joseph Corr, 43, John Laverty, 20, and John McKerr, 49.
A cavalcade of motor vehicles saw the families return to west Belfast in triumph, waving white flags to emphasise the innocence of the victims against the false accusations they had been armed or otherwise posed a threat to the British soldiers who killed them.
In between, the families took part in a cathartic event at Corpus Christi Youth Centre in Belfast.
Briege Voyle (pictured, right), daughter of Joan Connolly, one of the ten killed in the shootings, called for the disbandment of the Parachute Regiment, the same regiment that “murdered innocent people in the streets in Derry a few months later” in the Bloody Sunday massacre.
“They are a combat force, not peacekeepers, they have blood on their hands,” she said.
“They came here to wreak havoc killing and maiming wherever they went and then were given medals for their crimes. Their regiment is a disgrace and should be disbanded.”
The families have also called for the prosecution of those who allegedly directed the massacre, including General Mike Jackson, the then commander of the regiment, who they blame for spreading the lies about the victims, as well as Brigadier Frank Kitson, whose military strategy is said to have motivated the slaughters.
Ms Voyle, whose mother was branded a “gunwoman”, said that was a lie that was retold “time and time again”.
“The British Government covered up the lie and brought shame on themselves. My mother was no gunwoman. The coroner’s findings are clear; she was innocent.
“Her only crime was love. Love for her family as she went out to make sure that we were all safe. Love for a stranger who she tried to help as he cried out in pain after being shot by the army.
“Unlike mummy, the Parachute Regiment only had hate in their hearts when they gunned down her and the others. They were not peacemakers. They were not great soldiers. They were nothing but cowards. They shot my mummy, an unarmed mother of eight, from the safety of their barracks. They were cowards then, they are cowards now.”
“They didn’t have the courage to appear at the inquest and face up to their crimes. They didn’t have the courage to answer our questions.
“We deserve answers. Why did they shoot my mummy? Why did they leave her in a field to die. What were their orders and who gave them? Who helped them covered up their cowardly act? Who ordered their lies to be told?”
Of the soldiers who made statements admitting they shot her mother and the others, none have faced prosecution. Now, the British government is reported to be planning a blanket amnesty for all British military personnel accused of crimes in the north of Ireland.
“The British Ministry of Defence “used every dirty trick in the book to block this [inquest] process,” Ms Voyle said.
“Why? So they can get a few extra votes in Britain? Shame on you Boris. No-one should be above the law.
“We will not accept your amnesty for murderers. Every victim should have a right to pursue their justice. We will never give up. We will fight on.
“Our children, our grandchildren will fight on. You will not win. My father died a broken man because of what they did. He was left with eight children to bring up on his own.”
After disturbing reports that Boris Johnson had apologised indirectly through Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, the families received a ‘letter of apology’ from him on Thursday.
In the letter, Johnson said he “wanted to write you to express personally how sorry I am for the terrible hurt” caused by the massacre, which he said “should never have happened”.
It added: “The duty of the State is to hold itself to the highest standard and that requires us to recognise the hurt and agony caused when we fall short of those standards.
“For what happened on those terrible few days in Ballymurphy, and for what the families have gone through since you began your brave and dignified campaign almost five decades ago, I am truly sorry.”
John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot by a soldier, said the letter was totally unacceptable and insulting.
He said: “There is no mention of a massacre, there is no mention of the Paras.
“If this was to be done right he would have sat back, took his time, consulted with the families before he put that out. The manner in which he has done it is totally unacceptable to the families.”
He added: “Our loved ones were murdered by the State. The head of state is Boris Johnson so he should be standing at parliament, speaking to us, speaking to the world, that is the way you do things.
“This government has acted disgracefully. It should not have happened this way. It is really hurtful, it has caused pain and taken away our joyous moment of what happened on Tuesday.”
A subsequent statement by British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis, in which he referred to the Para killing spree in Ballymurphy as “terrible errors”, did not improve matters.
“They were not terrible errors, they were given the green light, just shoot anything you see,” said Ms Voyle.
“We need an investigation and the police need to do the job they should have done in 1971.”