Northern Ireland

Ballymurphy inquest: IRA ambush on army 'showed strength'

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

A former captain in the Parachute Regiment has told the Ballymurphy inquest that an ambush on his convoy showed the strength of the IRA in 1971.

Witness M226 was a captain based at the headquarters of 2 Para at Springfield Road RUC station, and the adjutant to Lt Col Geoffrey Howlett, the battalion commander at the time.

As General Howlett is now retired, that commander gave evidence last week.

The inquest is examining 10 people's deaths in west Belfast in August 1971.

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

M226 described an ambush which happened early in the morning of 11th August when their convoy was passing along the Falls Road in Andersonstown.

M226 said three of the tyres were shot in Lt Col Howlett's front Land Rover, and his own vehicle was peppered with bullets.

Image caption Four of the Ballymurphy victims died as a result of shooting in the Manse field

He thought they were very lucky that no one was wounded or killed.

He told the court it "showed the IRA were out on the streets in force at the time".

'Anarchy'

He said that Belfast "degenerated into severe civil disorder" after the introduction of internment.

"In short it was anarchy," he said.

M226 did not witness any of the Ballymurphy shootings and told the court he had no recollection of visiting B Company in the area on the day six people were fatally shot.

Rather he assisted the court with the way Battalion logs were compiled and kept, as he had been the Captain on duty keeping the 2 Para Headquarters Watchkeeper's Log.

Understanding the way the army kept logs and the information exchanged, will help the Coroner piece together what Army reports from Ballymurphy in August 1971 might mean.

For example, one of the radio messages from a neighbouring regiment based in Springmartin refers to "five possible kills at Ballymurphy."

Six people died as a result of shooting in the general area on that day.

Image caption Nine men and a woman were killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in August 1971

Counsel for the families noted that although Parachute Regiment soldiers had described gun battles in Ballymurphy in detail, no corresponding detail was contained in the existing 2 Para battalion logs.

The court has had difficulty locating some logs and reports from 2 Para for the period of the shootings, especially the B Company log which would have been kept at the area where four people died.

A request to the Ministry of Defence to locate them at the Parachute Regiment Headquarters in Colchester, and a subsequent search, indicated that they could not be found.

Earlier this week, the coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan said she would "invite the Ministry of Defence to assist me further."

M226 retired from the army as a Brigadier.

He told the court that he had served several tours in Northern Ireland and felt that when it came to 1971, he sometimes mixed up incidents and saw others "kaleidoscope into one event."

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