Northern Ireland

Ballymurphy inquest: Army investigators' 'panic stations'

John Laverty and Joseph Corr
Image caption John Laverty and Joseph Corr were shot dead on the Upper Whiterock Road in west Belfast

A former military policeman has described "absolute panic stations" among Army personnel investigating deaths during internment in NI in 1971.

Brian Samways was a Sergeant in the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP) in August 1971.

He has been testifying at the Ballymurphy inquest.

It is examining the remaining two of 10 deaths over a period of three days in August 1971.

This was after internment without trial was introduced in Northern Ireland earlier that month.

Although Mr Samways had been allocated a "military cipher" for the inquest (M437), he opted to give evidence without anonymity or screening from the public gallery.

His SIB unit of seven men was based at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, County Antrim.

At the time, the SIB conducted interviews with soldiers when there had been civilian deaths involving the Army.

The inquest is looking into the deaths of 10 people in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast over three days.

The focus is currently on the deaths of 43-year-old Joseph Corr and 20-year-old John Laverty on 11 August 1971.

Both men were shot by military SLR-type weapons as the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which was based in Ballymurphy at the time, advanced from Black Mountain down the Whiterock Road, early that morning.

Image caption An inquest is examining the deaths of 10 people killed in shootings at Ballymurphy in August 1971

Mr Samways told the court there was a recognised procedure for investigating deaths, similar to the way in which police detectives would have worked.

But he added that after internment was introduced, the SIB was "not necessarily following normal procedure".

At the time, "Solder B" said he shot two gunmen on 11 August 1971, but he did not give his statement to the SIB until almost a year later.

Mr Samways agreed that such a delay would be unusual.

'Sheer volume'

He also said that the format of Soldier B's statement seemed to be different from how he would expect things to have been done.

He said that the sheer volume of incidents in August 1971 meant there was more than his section could deal with and that there was no time to take proper statements.

He also agreed that the security situation meant he usually was only able to interview soldiers, and not civilians.

He told the court that although his name appeared beside some investigations on military records, he believed he had never had time to initiate investigations into many of them.

The court heard that within the first week after he arrived in Northern Ireland, Mr Samways had had 15 cases allocated to him.

These included seven attempted murders of soldiers, one murder of a soldier, and the death of a civilian.

He suggested that just one August 1971 day in Northern Ireland might bring him the number of shootings and deaths that an ordinary police detective might encounter in an entire 30-year career.

He also explained that Army weapons were not seized for forensic examination after firing, because it would have left units without the arms to defend themselves.

Mr Samways recalled attending the scene of the death of Harry Thornton on the Springfield Road in west Belfast two days before internment was introduced, and the death of a soldier from the Green Howards shortly afterwards.

He did not remember looking into any of the deaths in Ballymurphy that week and the court has not heard any evidence that he ever did.

However Mr Samways has been shown statements from unnamed soldiers who said they opened fire at incidents on the Whiterock Road on 11 August, and claimed to have shot up to 13 individuals.

None of those casualties was ever discovered.

Mr Samways accepted he took those statements at Palace Barracks in Holywood, County Down, and signed them, but could not remember taking them.

There has been confusion dating back to 1971 whether these incidents are connected in any way with the deaths of Joseph Corr and John Laverty, but it is widely believed that they are not.

Mr Samways was able to provide the court with copies of a handwritten diary he kept at the time, where he noted the major incidents in which he was involved.

Days later, Mr Samways said, he was posted to Londonderry to commence investigations there and was never able to follow up many of the incidents which had occurred in Belfast.

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