Fresh inquest opens into plastic bullet killing

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A new inquest into the death of a 10-year-old boy in Belfast in 1975 has heard his injuries were “consistent” with being shot at by British soldiers firing plastic bullets.

Stephen Geddis suffered a head injury after British soldiers fired into a crowd of children in the Albert Street area of west Belfast on 29 August 1975. He died in hospital the next day.

A bogus inquest held in January 1976, in which no civilian witnesses were called, returned a verdict of “misadventure”.

Coroner Paddy McGurgan began a new inquest at Banbridge Court on Monday this week.

It began with details of a post-mortem report, which was carried out the morning after Stephen’s killing.

It heard that that Stephen was found lying on the ground in the immediate aftermath of a plastic bullet being fired.

The concussed 10-year-old told nurses before he died that he thought he had been hit on the head by an object fired from a catapult, but two pathologists agreed that his injuries were “much more consistent” with being struck by a plastic bullet.

Anthony Sloan, who was 14 at the time, told the hearing that he was on a balcony in the flats complex when he saw a soldier raise a plastic bullet gun and fire a shot.

A statement from Mr Sloan said: “I recall seeing about 25 to 30 kids, all around my age. It was still fairly bright. I clearly recall seeing an army Saracen, a four-wheeler known as the Pig, driving along Albert Street.

“I can clearly recall seeing the back doors of the Pig open, and either two or three soldiers jumped out of the back. I saw them run across the end of St Jude’s Path. A soldier raised his baton gun and fired a single plastic bullet.

“I had a clear view of the soldier. The soldier was right at the corner of St Jude’s Path when he fired an aimed shot.”

Mr Sloan’s statement said he then walked down to the spot where a young boy was lying on the ground.

He said: “I walked down to where the ambulance was parked. I saw Stephen Geddis. A man was carrying Stephen over to the ambulance. Stephen was crying and the man was saying ‘Stay awake, stay awake’.”

Counsel for the coroner Frank O’Donogue asked Mr Sloan if he had seen Stephen throwing stones or using a catapult before he was injured. Mr Sloan said he had not.

Another witness, Robert Russell, told the court: “I clearly recall a soldier standing, aiming a weapon in the direction where Stephen was standing.

“I would have heard the shot but I did not see it being fired. The image of the soldier standing aiming the weapon has stuck in my mind forever.”

Another witness, Martin Hughes, told the hearing that he had lifted Stephen from the ground after he was injured.

He said: “I recall hearing a bang. I looked over and one of the two soldiers was carrying a plastic bullet gun, he was holding the gun in the aim position. I then saw Stephen lying on Albert Street on the road.

“I ran over and lifted Stephen. I saw the crowd starting to gather round him and I lifted him up.”

The hearing also heard a statement from Brenda Boyce, who lived in the Divis complex in 1975. It said that she had returned home on the evening of August 29 and Stephen had been placed on the sofa in her front room

Her statement said: “The house was full of people who were in a state of panic. In the living room I saw a boy younger than myself lying on the settee.

“The boy was unconscious and his head was very swollen and the left side of his face was a dark blue colour. The boy’s head was larger than the size of one of the scatter cushions on the settee.”

The court is set to hear evidence from other civilian witnesses, as well as from former members of the British Army.

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