Ballymurphy Inquest: Priest's shooting was 'good press'

Ballymurphy victims
Image caption,
Ten people were killed in the shootings in Ballymurphy, including Fr Hugh Mullan, pictured bottom left

A former Army major has described the shooting of a priest on 9 August 1971 as "good press".

Soldier M45 was addressing an inquest into the deaths of 10 people in west Belfast, including 38-year-old Father Hugh Mullan.

Fr Mullan and Francis Quinn, 19, were shot in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park in Ballymurphy.

Soldier M45 was in command of B Company 2 Para at Vere Foster and Henry Taggart base on the Springfield Road.

Asked to explain what that meant by his comment, he said the priest's death would have strong resonance with Catholic people and that "they would make what they could of it".

'Quite unacceptable'

The Parachute Regiment soldier, who has been granted anonymity at the inquest and is hidden from the public gallery, was read the allegations of men taken into the Henry Taggart base and who survived.

The men claimed that they had been tortured and injured by Army soldiers.

M45 agreed that such behaviour would be "quite unacceptable" if it happened, but added: "I don't honestly accept that it did happen. There may have been rough usage."

He said that the soldiers had been under fire and some had been frightened.

M45 later described in detail how he climbed onto the roof of Vere Foster school and saw that his soldiers were under fire from the nearby Moyard flats.

He ordered his men to return fire and that he believed two gunmen were "taken down".

Early the next morning, he said, they could see the body of a man on the balcony.

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

That version of events was challenged by a barrister for the next-of-kin, who explained that no civilian witness had seen a gunman or found a body.

Journalists and television crews visiting the flat the following day had not seen any evidence either, she told the court.

The inquest has already heard from several witnesses who did enter the flat the next morning to rescue two sleeping infants, who had survived unharmed a few inches below the sustained gunfire.

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

Earlier on Wednesday, M45 told the court that Belfast "imploded" on the day in question.

M45 told the court that "Ballymurphy was just one of many little actions going on in Belfast that night".

"I thought that was accepted. Belfast had almost imploded on 9 August," he said.

'Can't line up soldiers'

M45 explained to a barrister that he had not immediately begun an investigation after his soldiers opened fire in an incident which saw four people lose their lives.

"It's quite frenetic when people are shooting at you and you are shooting back," he said.

"You can't line up soldiers and ask them, 'put up your hand, who did this and who did that?'"

M45 explained that he had been in Vere Foster during the shooting, not Henry Taggart, and thus had not given the command to fire at people in the Manse field where four people were fatally shot.

He also said he could remember seeing Joan Connolly though the day, and remembered her wearing a brown and yellow coat.

He added he remembered seeing her body at a later stage.

A barrister for the coroner pointed out that the evidence to the inquest so far, including from the autopsy, showed that Mrs Connolly had been wearing a black and white tweed coat.

M45 said he had a strong memory of the other colours on the coat.

Later a barrister for the Teggart and Phillips families asked if M45 knew if any of the people his soldiers shot had been on the list of internment suspects.

"No" said M45.

"How do you know?" asked the barrister.

"Well, we didn't shoot Gerry Adams and he was on the list," said the former soldier.

There was a brief moment of laughter in the courtroom.

Gerry Adams lived opposite the Henry Taggart base at the time and his home was under surveillance.

M45 also said during his evidence about his soldiers, "the forbearance they showed that day was remarkable".

Ten people died over the first three days of internment in the Ballymurphy area, six of them on the first day.