A former head of the British Army has rejected a suggestion that it tried to cover up the shooting of civilians in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in August 1971.
Giving evidence at the inquest into the deaths, retired General Mike Jackson described the claim as preposterous.
He was responding to questions from Michael Mansfield QC, representing the family of Joseph Corr, who died after being shot on 11 August 1971.
The barrister began his questioning by stating that Mr Corr “was not a gunman, wasn’t armed, wasn’t a member of the IRA and wasn’t associated with the IRA.”
Mr Mansfield said there was no evidence that any soldiers who fired their weapons on the day that Mr Corr was shot had been interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.
He said this was a breach of the British Army’s policies and asked General Jackson if that was because there was a desire to cover up what happened.
“That is a preposterous allegation to make,” said the retired general, who was a captain with the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy at the time of the shootings. “It simply doesn’t add up.”
He told the inquest he did not know whether any soldiers had been interviewed at the time, and that it was possible there may have been a break in the British Army’s normal procedures because of the pressure it was under at the time.
“What I do know is we don’t do conspiracies,” he said.
The comment was greeted by muted laughter from the packed public gallery, while relatives of those killed shook their heads.
Earlier, General Jackson accepted it was likely that he was a Parachute Regiment captain quoted in a newspaper report on 11 August 1971 stating that two men shot dead by soldiers early that morning had been IRA gunmen.
He told the court part of his duties included briefing the media about the regiment’s activities.
Questioned by Sean Doran QC, representing the coroner, he accepted that no weapons had been found on the two men shot dead that day.
In his statement to the inquest, which was read to the court, Mr Jackson said he had “absolutely no doubt” the IRA had engaged members of the regiment in a fierce gun battle that morning.
The statement said 600 soldiers had come under a “hail of gunfire” when they moved in to remove barricades in the area. It also said two gunmen had been shot dead and their bodies recovered.
Mr Jackson confirmed that he had witnessed the men being shot or seen their bodies. “In retrospect of course I should have said alleged gunmen,” he added.
Mr Doran then asked the retired general if he wished to say anything to relatives of those who were killed, 15 of whom were sitting directly across from him in Court 12 at Belfast Laganside Courts.
“Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones, for me it is a tragedy,” he said.
“It’s a tragedy which is hugely that is hugely regrettable, but I would say anybody who loses their loved one as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy. I too have lost friends so be it.
“My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”
With many thanks to: RTÉ News and Vincent Kearney (Northern Correspondent) for the original story