Ballymurphy Inquest: Coroner finds 10 victims were innocent

Ballymurphy families

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Ten people killed in west Belfast almost 50 years ago in the wake of an Army operation were “entirely innocent”, an inquest has found.

The inquest, which began in November 2018, examined the deaths in and around the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in August 1971.

The shootings happened after an operation in which paramilitary suspects were detained without trial.

Victims included a priest trying to help the wounded and a mother of eight.

Nine of the 10 victims were killed by the Army, the coroner said.

The coroner could not definitively say who shot the tenth victim, John McKerr.

Mrs Justice Keegan, who delivered her findings over the course of more than two hours, said the deaths took place during Northern Ireland’s Troubles in a “highly charged and difficult environment”.

But she concluded: “What is very clear, is that all of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of wrongdoing on the day in question.”

The killings happened over three days immediately following the introduction of internment – the arrest and detention of paramilitary suspects without trial.

Ballymurphy field

Mrs Justice Keegan said the effects of the killings on the families of the 10 victims had been “stark”.

Inquests were held into the deaths in 1972, but they were separate and returned open verdicts.

The new inquests, which began in November 2018, have been held together.

The court heard almost 100 days of evidence from more than 150 witnesses.

These included more than 60 former soldiers, more than 30 civilians and experts in ballistics, pathology and engineering.

Justice Minister Naomi Long tweeted that the families “had to battle too hard and too long” to hear Tuesday’s verdict.

What did Mrs Justice Keegan say?

Father Hugh Mullan, 38 and Francis Quinn, 19

Father Hugh Mullan, 38 and Francis Quinn, 19

The coroner found both men were shot by the Army on 9 August 1971, although neither was armed.

She said there was no evidence Mr Quinn had a gun or was in close proximity to someone who had a gun.

She said she was quite convinced Fr Mullan was a “peace-maker” and that he was carrying a white object at the time that he was shot.

Mrs Justice Keegan said there was enough evidence both men were trying to render help to someone injured at the time.

She concluded, in the case of both men, that “the use of force was clearly disproportionate”.

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Joan Connolly, 44; Daniel Teggart, 44; Noel Phillips, 19; Joseph Murphy, 41

Victims

Mrs Justice Keegan found there was “no doubt” the four were shot by the Army in August 1971.

She acknowledged the Army was coming under fire from gunmen in the area at the time, but she concluded the use of force against the deceased was “clearly disproportionate”.

She said they were innocent, unarmed and were “posing no risk.”

The coroner said it was clear the environment was difficult at the time, with many people, including children, out on the streets but she said the state had failed to establish that the shootings were justified.

Ruling on a claim by a soldier that 33 rounds of ammunition were found in a pocket on clothes worn by Daniel Taggert, she said if this was the case it was “quite an amount of ammunition” yet it was not mentioned by other soldiers.

She concluded she was not satisfied that “this fact is proven.”

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Edward Doherty, 31

Edward Doherty

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Mrs Justice Keegan said Mr Doherty was an innocent man when he was shot, who posed no threat. She said he was on the street and had come across events on his way home.

She said he was not linked with the IRA and there was was no sign of petrol or explosives on his body.

She said a British soldier, known as M3, fired in response to a petrol bomber and that Mr Doherty was in the line of fire.

The coroner said the use of force was disporportionate in relation to the risk posed to the soldier.

“Unfortunately, Mr Doherty was caught up in what happened in this incident and he lost his life as a result,” Mrs Justice Keegan said.

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Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20.

Victims joseph corr and john laverty

Mrs Justice Keegan found that on the balance of probability, both men were shot by the Army.

She said it was wrong to describe the two men as gunmen and that rumour should be dispelled.

She also said the Royal Military Police investigation of the killings at the time was inadequate.

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