Northern Ireland

Ex-RUC officers 'witnessed gun battle'

The Ballymurphy victims
Image caption Ten people were killed in the shootings at Ballymurphy in 1971

Two former RUC officers have told the Ballymurphy Inquest they witnessed a gun battle involving soldiers and unseen gunmen.

Former constables John Jackson and Rolf McGookin were on duty on the Springmartin Road, a Protestant area, when internment was introduced on 9 August 1971.

Six people were fatally shot that day.

Two of them, Father Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn, died on waste ground near Springfield Park.

The inquest has already heard evidence about a crowd from Springmartin attacking Springfield Park, forcing families to flee.

It has heard little from those situated in Springmartin until now.

Both former officers said the Springmartin crowd was "not hostile" initially and had been watching rioting at the Henry Taggart Army base some distance below them.

Image caption Relatives of some of the Ballymurphy victims

Then, they said, a cry went up that the Springmartin area was being attacked.

Both agreed that the crowd quickly became a mob, which they described as "uncontrollable", and there was a prolonged riot with missiles being thrown between the two areas.

'Soldiers taking up positions'

They described soldiers arriving and taking up positions.

Later, they described hearing a gun battle between gunmen in the Moyard, Springfield Park and Ballymurphy areas with soldiers returning fire.

Neither officer said they had been able to control the crowd and neither could remember actually seeing gunmen or anyone injured.

One witness previously told the court they had observed RUC officers "laughing and joking" with the Springmartin crowd.

Both Mr Jackson and Mr McGookin said they had not seen this happening.

Later, statements from a further four officers were read out to the court.

Image copyright PUBLIC
Image caption The shootings occurred in the Ballymurphy area amid disturbances sparked by the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland

In his statement made in 1972, Rex Thompson described watching what the soldiers from 2 Para and 2 Queens could see as they looked down into Springfield Park.

He described helping to direct their fire towards people he thought were gunmen.

The officer described the area where the two men were shot, saying that it seemed as if one of them, wearing a white shirt, was firing from behind some tree stumps.

He said the other, dressed in black, was shot shortly afterwards.

He said he had not noticed a priest or a man waving a white cloth.

Many witnesses to the inquest have described Fr Mullan trying to give the last rites to another man, while waving a white cloth of some kind.

'Tripped over body'

Later, the court heard evidence from a former soldier, attached to B Company, 2 Para located in the Henry Taggart and Vere Foster base.

Four people were fatally shot opposite the base on 9 August.

They were Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips, and John Teggart.

M1438 was a signaller and said that although he had been issued with an SLR (self loading rifle), he did not fire it during the incident.

He said many shots were fired at the base and he heard paratroopers returning fire.

The former soldier described looking out of the windows of the base, but agreed that he had not seen any civilians with guns.

He said that later in the night he got up and tripped over something in a corridor.

M1438 said that looking down in the moonlight, he could see he had tripped over the bodies of at least two people killed in the shooting.

He later thought that one of them may have been Joan Connolly because of the nature of the wounds to her face.

More on this story