Northern Ireland

Ballymurphy Inquest: Soldier thanked for providing names

The Ballymurphy victims
Image caption The inquest is examining the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy in 1971

An ex-soldier has been thanked for providing the names of other soldiers to the Ballymurphy Inquest.

However, the soldier, known as M139, denied that there was "a limit to his assistance".

M139 was screened from the public gallery as he gave evidence.

He was a member of 2 Para Support Company in August 1971 and was in the general area where six people received fatal gunshot wounds, the day internment was introduced.

The inquest is investigating the circumstances of the deaths of a total of 10 people in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast over three days in 1971.

Previously, a barrister at the inquest had asked another witness if other members of Support Company were "putting up a virtual wall of silence" about what happened that day, something he vehemently denied.

M139 spent a great deal of time in court on Tuesday assisting the coroner with the names of several other soldiers in Support Company, and explaining how the company's platoon system would have worked in 1971.

He also recalled finding a high point in a block of flats to provide cover for a nearby Army base he believed had come under attack.

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

M139 described entering the flats with a colleague and climbing several floors to watch the Vere Foster School and Henry Taggart Hall which formed a single Army base complex.

He accepted he may have been in the unfinished Springmartin Flats, from where several other soldiers said they had opened fire.

Although they saw some civilians in the distance, he said he did not see anyone attacking the base.

Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Joseph Murphy and Daniel Teggart were shot opposite the base.

Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot in nearby Springfield Park, an area also visible from the flats.

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

No weapon was found near any of the six victims that day, and their families have always insisted they were not armed or attacking anyone.

M139 said he remembered that he had brought his riot weapon, thinking he was going to be required to prevent civil unrest.

He said he had left his SLR rifle in an armoured vehicle which left after dropping him and his colleagues off.

A barrister for the Mullan and Quinn families asked him why he would have made such a decision given he knew the base was apparently under attack.

M139 insisted he had not brought his SLR with him.

He also recalled briefly seeing green tracers coming towards him and realising it was incoming fire, because the Army used red tracers.

He said he did not fire his riot weapon, but thinks the soldier with him may have fired his SLR twice.

'Limit to his assistance'

At the time, Support Company soldiers made statements suggesting they had fired about 60 live rounds at anything up to 12 gunmen.

Soldiers from the Queen's Regiment were also in the area and previously spoke of opening fire.

M139 accepted that it was the possible soldiers from Queen's and the Paras may have accidentally fired in each other's general direction.

But he insisted he could not remember who was in the flats with him and who might have opened fire, causing the barrister to ask if there was "a limit to his assistance".

M139 said he was doing his best to remember as many names as he could.

Image caption The 1971 shootings took place during the introduction of internment without trial

Later, another former Support Company soldier was asked about rumours surrounding the shooting of Fr Hugh Mullan in Springfield Park, and the death of Joan Connolly on the Springfield Road.

Soldier M152 was posted to protect the Mackie's Factory some distance away during the shootings and did not witness them.

The rest of the company was deployed into the general area where the shootings happened.

However, M152 told the court he had been told later by another Support Company soldier that the priest had been shot.

He had heard that Support Company soldiers had shot the priest because he was bending down to pick something up, but M152 admitted he was hearing the news second hand.

He said he had also heard that a woman was shot when she was "out in front of the crowd" outside the Henry Taggart Army base, "leading the attack or the riot".

The solider emphasised that it was just a rumour, and he was reluctant to repeat it, because he knew the relatives of the deceased were in the courtroom and would not want to hear it.

A barrister for the Mullan and Quinn families explained to M152 that no soldier from Support Company has admitted to the current inquest that he, or any other specific soldier, fired a live round at anyone, for any reason.

She referred again to a "wall of silence" from Support Company.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.

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