Retired general denies British Army tried to cover up Ballymurphy shootings

Relatives of those who were murdered on Bloody Sunday in Derry and in Ballymurphy embraced each other as they entered Belfast Lagan side Courts today

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

 

Ballymurphy inquest: Rifles ‘may have been in paramilitary hands’

An inquest is examining the murders of 10 people shot dead by the British Army Parachute Regiment at Ballymurphy in August 1971

Loyalist and republican paramilitary groups and the Army may have possessed the weapons most likely used in the Ballymurphy shootings, according to expert witnesses.

An inquest is looking into the shooting dead of 10 people in the area in west Belfast in August 1971.

A report was presented to the court on Wednesday from ballistics experts.

They are acting on behalf of the Coroner’s Service, the Ministry of Defence and the victims’ next of kin.

Ballymurphy shootings: Who were the victims?
Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Daniel Teggart, and Joseph Murphy were fatally shot in an area of waste ground near the Henry Taggart base on 9 August 1971, the day that internment without trial was introduced.

It is thought that almost all of the victims were struck by bullets from a rifle, although it is possible that Noel Phillips was not.

He was struck by 9mm bullets, which may have been fired by a military pistol or a submachine gun on semi or automatic fire.

Intelligence reliability challenged

Some of the rifle bullets could be clearly identified as having come from an SLR weapon (self-loading rifle), identical to those issued to British soldiers.

However, the experts quoted police intelligence that such SLR weapons could also have been in the possession of both republican and loyalist paramilitaries at the time.

The 1971 shootings took place during the introduction of internment without trail

A barrister for Joan Connolly’s family challenged the reliability of that intelligence.

The question arose of exactly when SLR weapons fell into paramilitary hands.

Turning to the injuries of the victims, the ballistics experts told the court:

Joan Connolly was shot three to four times and a fragment of an SLR round was found in her body
Noel Phillips was shot three to four times, at least twice by 9mm bullets, one of which was recovered from his body
Daniel Teggart was shot eight to 11 times but no bullets were recovered
Joseph Murphy was struck at least once in the thigh and a bullet fragment recovered after an exhumation of his body was of a rifle type, which could have included an SLR

‘No evidence of victims firing weapons’
The experts could not say whether the victims had been moving or static when shot or where the shooters had been located.

They agreed that all the shots could have come from the Henry Taggart Army base but could also have come from several other places, such as the waste ground, Vere Foster school, Springmartin and the Springfield Road.

The experts also agreed that none of the victims had been shot from a range closer than about a metre (3ft 4in).

Three of the victims – Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips and Joseph Murphy – could not have been shot by the kind of Mauser rifle that Witness X – the so-called Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) interlocutor – has claimed was being fired by the loyalist paramilitary group that day.

Witness X has not given oral evidence to the inquest.

The Manse field area in Ballymurphy is opposite the Henry Taggart Hall

The ballistics experts also agreed there was no evidence that any of the victims had been firing weapons, although it was noted that their clothes had not been scientifically examined.

Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister for the family of Noel Phillips, spoke at length with Ann Kiernan, a ballistics expert for the next of kin.

Miss Kiernan used a mannequin and tracking rods to demonstrate to the court the positions of Mr Phillips’ injuries.

She agreed with Mr Mansfield’s suggestion that it was possible that Mr Phillips could have been shot by a pistol held as close as two or more feet away, as he lay face down on the ground with an arm raised.

But she could not discount the possibility that the weapon, either a pistol or a sub machine gun, had been fired from the Henry Taggart base or elsewhere.

The court heard that two other victims, Father Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn, could have been shot by SLRs.

They died on waste ground near Springfield Park on 9 August 1971.

The evidence came in another agreed note from ballistics experts.

They agreed:

Fr Mullan was shot at least twice by rifle bullets while kneeling or lying down and those bullets could have come from an SLR
Frank Quinn was shot in the head by an SLR bullet, which some experts think may have first passed through Fr Mullan, who was beside him
Frank Quinn could not have been shot by the UVF Mauser rifle described by Witness X

With many thanks to: BBCNI and Will Leitch for the original story

 

Ballymurphy inquest: Gerry Adams denies IRA membership

Mr Adams has consistently denied that he was ever a member of the IRA, but has said he will never “disassociate” himself from the organization

Gerry Adams has told the Ballymurphy Inquest he was not a member of the IRA.

The inquest is looking into the shooting dead of 10 people in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971.

The Sinn Féin Louth TD said he believed that the Provisional IRA had decided not to engage the British Army well before civilians were shot and killed.

He said that when internment began in August 1971 he was a Sinn Féin activist but did not have direct knowledge of the Provisional IRA’s actions.

Ballymurphy shootings: Who were the victims?
The shootings occurred amid disturbances sparked by the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland.

Mr Adams, who is now 70, is giving evidence to the inquest on its 55th day of hearings.

He said he did not witness any of the killings.

Ten innocent people were murdered in the shootings at Ballymurphy in 1971

Asked directly about his connections to the IRA by a barrister for the coroner, Mr Adams said: “I was not a member of the IRA, I have never disassociated myself with the IRA, and I never will, until the day I die.

“I would’ve been in a minority,” he told the court.

“The military tendency within republicanism was the dominant tendency.”

He said he had no direct knowledge of what the Provisional IRA had done on the days of the Ballymurphy shootings, but had heard a lot of rumours and hearsay.

He said he understood and believed that the IRA had returned fire earlier on 9 August 1971, but had disengaged in the mid afternoon, some hours before six people were later fatally shot.

Fr Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn died near Springfield Park.

Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Joseph Murphy and Daniel Teggart were fatally shot in the Manse field opposite the Henry Taggart Army base.

Mr Adams said of the killings: “The British government opted for the military option and reneged on its political responsibilities, and handed it over to the generals.

“The generals did what generals do. The paratroopers were ordered to pacify and subdue and kill the enemy, and the enemy in this case were the decent people of Ballymurphy. ”

He added: “It is hardly surprising that the Provisional IRA came into the ascendancy fairly quickly.”

Gerry Adams emerged from the turbulent history of Northern Ireland to become one of the island’s foremost figures in republicanism, leading Sinn Féin for 34 years.

To some he is hailed as a peacemaker, for leading the republican movement away from its long, violent campaign towards peaceful and democratic means.

To others, he is a hate figure who publicly justified murders carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The paramilitary group is believed to be responsible for about 1,700 deaths during more than 30 years of violence, mostly in Northern Ireland, that became known as the Troubles.

Mr Adams has consistently denied that he was ever a member of the IRA, but has said he will never “disassociate” himself from the organisation.

In 1971, Mr Adams lived at 11 Divismore Park, opposite the Henry Taggart Army base, but said that he had stopped staying there at night after armed men had come to the house in a separate incident.

He described staying over at Springhill Crescent nearby at the time the four fatal shootings took place at the Manse Field.

He said he watched the rescue of 11-year-old Edward Butler after he had been shot trying to leave the field.

Edward Butler survived the incident despite serious injuries, and has testified at the inquest.

But he said there was one other incident of the IRA opening fire.

Mr Adams said that after Edward Butler was rescued, he saw two masked IRA volunteers with rifles running up Springhill Crescent past him and others, and passing out of sight.

He said he believed they then fired their weapons, possibly at the Springmartin area.

Mr Adams is continuing to give evidence.

With many thanks to: BBCNI and Will Leitch for the original story

Ballymurphy Inquest: Man saw brother ‘being shot by soldier’

Ten people were murdered in the shootings at Ballymurphy in West Belfast 1971

A man has told the Ballymurphy Inquest in Belfast that he stood at his bedroom window and watched his elder brother being shot by the Army.

Robert Russell’s house overlooked the Manse field area and he said he was aware of shooting and screaming there when he looked out.

He said he was 12 or 13 years old at the time.

Gerard Russell survived the shooting, but suffers from ill-health and has not given evidence to the current inquest.

Ballymurphy shootings: Who were the victims?
The inquest is looking into the fatal shootings of 10 people in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in August 1971.

The shootings happened amid disturbances sparked by the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland.

Manse field area opposite the Henry Taggart Hall

Robert Russell who told the court he recalled watching an Army Saracen drive from the Henry Taggart Army base, across the road and into the field, where several British soldiers climbed out.

He said he watched one soldier walk over to a clump of felled trees in the Manse field and use his rifle to shoot someone lying prone on the ground several times.

Mr Russell said he watched the body jerk.

He then saw a different soldier with others over at the gates of the field, which led to the Springfield Road.

He recognised his 19-year-old brother Gerard by his coat, and saw that he was trying to leave the field where he had been taking cover.

Robert Russell said the soldier fired a handgun at his brother around three times.

Again, he saw the body jerk.

He told the court that at this time he did not see anyone in the field with a weapon or firing at the Army.

Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were based at Henry Taggart Army base

He did say that some hours earlier he had listened as a man a number of yards away from him on Glenalina Road had fired 20-30 rounds from an automatic weapon at the Henry Taggart Army base.

He remembered hearing later that it was a member of the Official IRA using a sub-machine gun.

He recalled that local people were angry with the gunman for putting everyone around him in danger.

Robert Russell, who was one of a number of republican prisoners that broke out of the Maze Prison in September 1983, has already testified at the inquest with regard to the death of John McKerr.

Mr McKerr, a 49-year-old former soldier with the Scottish Fusiliers, was shot outside the old Corpus Christi Parish.

He had been working as a joiner at Corpus Christi Church on Westrock Drive in west Belfast.

He was shot and injured on 11 August 1971, and died in hospital a week later.

During Robert Russell’s evidence on Wednesday, he was challenged about differences in his various statements since the late 1990s.

Taking cover
Later, a man told the inquest he had lain under fire in the Manse field alongside two young boys, one of whom was later shot and badly injured.

Francis Notarantonio said that after the shooting started he had been running for cover alongside Noel Phillips, who was shot and went down screaming.

Mr Phillips was one of four people who died from their injuries sustained in the Manse field that day.

Mr Notarantonio, who was 14 years old at the time, said when he took cover seconds later near a fallen tree he was with Martin and Edward Butler, who were aged nine and 11.

He said he encouraged the boys to get down and take cover.

As they lay there he said he later saw soldiers arrive in an armoured vehicle and saw a soldier fire some shots towards the ground.

He could not see at what or whom the soldier was aiming.

He described how Edward later made a run towards a gap in a fence and was shot in the upper thigh, and seriously injured.

Mr Notarantonio said he held Martin down to stop him from trying to make the same run after his elder brother.

Later some people from nearby houses helped the boys to escape after dark.

Both Butler brothers have already testified at the inquest.

Mr Notarantonio said he did not see shooting from the field or anyone there with a weapon.

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story

 

Ballymurphy inquest: General’s ‘sympathy’ for relatives

General Sir Geoffrey Hewlett was commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment 1971

The former commanding officer of a key battalion in the Parachute regiment has said he has “enormous sympathy” for all relatives of those killed in the Ballymurphy shootings.

General Sir Geoffrey Howlett, 89, was giving evidence at the Ballymurphy Inquest.

It is examining the deaths of 10 people in west Belfast in August 1971.

The deaths followed three days of gunfire in Ballymurphy following the introduction of internment.

Ballymurphy shootings: Who were the victims?
General Howlett described the first day of interment in 1971 as “the busiest day of my life” and said of those shot in Ballymurphy that “most if not all were not IRA”.

Addressing the families
He expressed his sympathy after asking the coroner if he could address the families of the bereaved.

He addressed the families whilst looking across the courtroom at them in the jury area.

He said he had lost his own father, killed in Italy during the war, when he himself was aged just 13, and therefore knew something of bereavement.

General Howlett later rose to be commander-in-chief of Allied Forces in Northern Europe, retiring in 1989.

As Lt Col Howlett, he was commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, known as 2 Para.

The regiment was based in the Ballymurphy area at the time of the shootings along with the 1st Battalion (1 Para).

General Howlett was the officer who deployed B Company 2 Para to Vere Foster school and Henry Taggart Hall, both army bases on the Springfield Road.

Who were the victims?
Father Hugh Mullan, 38, and Francis Quinn, 19, were shot in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park
Daniel Teggart, 44, Joan Connolly, 44, Noel Phillips, 19, and Joseph Murphy, 41, were shot near the Henry Taggart Army base near Springfield Park
John Laverty, 20, and Joseph Corr, 43, were shot at separate points at the top of Whiterock Road
Edward Doherty, 31, was shot at the corner of Brittons Parade and Whiterock Road
John McKerr, 49, was shot outside the old Corpus Christi Parish
Six people died as a result of shootings in the area on 9th August 1971.

They were Father Hugh Mullan, Francis Quinn, Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips and Danny Teggart.

General Howlett recalled meeting Father Hugh Mullan some weeks before the priest was shot dead.

He said he was sure that he had indeed been administering the last rites when he was shot.

“It was quite obvious Father Mullan was not part of the IRA” he said .

Of the other victims he said: “Whether they were IRA or not at the time I don’t think we quite knew.”

Father Mullan was killed in the same incident as Francis Quinn, on waste ground near Springfield Park.

The other four people fatally shot were in the Manse area opposite the Henry Taggart army base.

‘The UVF never took us on’
General Howlett said he was based on the Springfield Road at the time of the shootings on 9th August 1971, but came to Henry Taggart Hall in the late evening to resupply B Company with ammunition.

He described being ambushed on the journey. He said he believed that 30 to 40 rounds were fired at his land rovers when they entered the base.

He claimed the firing at them was coming from the south west.

Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were based at Henry Taggart Army base

He described hearing later of the death of Father Mullan, and was surprised to read in recent years that the UVF now claim to have been operating in the area.

“The UVF never took us on” General Howlett told the court. “In fact we rarely saw them”.

Several times during his evidence, he said that his memories of the time had become “muddled”, but said he had better recollection of moments when he had been fired on.

“I find my memory of places and timing very difficult” he said.

‘Internment changed Belfast’
He remembered that it was not common practice to conduct a forensic examination of soldiers’ weapons after civilian deaths.

He also said that no soldier was disciplined over the events of 9-11 August.

He told the court that his brigade commander Brigadier Kitson had disagreed with the introduction of internment, and that no one had realised what it would lead to.

He said the introduction of internment had totally changed Belfast and created a “full-blown battle”.

He added he and his military colleagues were unprepared for “such a rebellious period, with as much rioting, shooting, petrol and nail-bombing as there was.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the big change.”

Relatives of some of the victims attended the inquest in Belfast

General Howlett recalled meeting Father Hugh Mullan some weeks before the priest was shot dead.

He said he was sure that he had indeed been administering the last rites when he was shot.

“It was quite obvious Father Mullan was not part of the IRA” he said.

Of the other victims he said: “Whether they were IRA or not at the time I don’t think we quite knew.”

Father Mullan was killed in the same incident as Francis Quinn, on waste ground near Springfield Park.

The other four people fatally shot were in the Manse area opposite the Henry Taggart army base.

Ten people were murdered in the shootings in Ballymurphy in August 1971

A regimental history from 1971 was read out to General Howlett, stating that the Paras had inflicted severe damage on the IRA on 9 August.

“I think that was our belief at the time” he said.

He accepted that their beliefs and thoughts at the time were mistaken.

He added, that later “we realised that most if not all were not IRA”.

The retired general agreed Daniel Teggart and Noel Phillips were not “members of the IRA firing at us”.

“I accept that” he said.

He added that he was not certain that the two men had not been associated with the IRA.

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story

Related Topics
BelfastBallymurphy inquestBritish ArmyThe Troubles