Ten people shot dead in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971 were “all entirely innocent of any wrongdoing” a coroner found on Tuesday.
She found that nine out of ten were shot by the British army. In the tenth case, that of John McKerr, she said she could not make a determination as to who shot him. It may have been a Loyalist paramilitary, but was probably a soldier.
She said she had been “severely hampered by the inadequacy of evidence at the time” and there had been “abject failure” by the authorities to investigate his death.
The ten killed were Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John James McKerr. An 11th victim, Pat McCarthy, died of a heart attack.
The coroner was highly critical of the military evidence. She was also critical of the limited investigations carried out in the past saying, “failure to investigate at the time made my task extremely difficult”.
The families of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre have spoken after their loved ones were declared wholly innocent. The judgement came after many years of campaigning.
John McKerr's daughter Anne Ferguson said, “I wondered, with the length of time that had passed, whether it was all going to be worth it. In the end, it is. Ten tonnes have been lifted in weight off our shoulders."
“To hear it said publicly that my father was innocent, that was all we wanted,” she said.
“He lost his hand in the Second World War, he had no affiliation with any group, apart from the British Legion."
John Teggart, the son of victim Daniel Teggart, said, "During the inquest, we had to sit through 100-days of evidence. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was awful. What gave us the strength to get through was the knowledge that every day of evidence was another blow to the MOD.
“It has taken us 50 years to get to this point. We are just ordinary families from Ballymurphy but we have held the British government and Ministry of Defence to account. We hope today will give strength to all other families. It can be done, don’t give up, you will succeed.
“These lies end today. We have corrected history today. The inquest confirmed that the soldiers who came to the area, supposedly to protect us, turned their guns on us."
Joan Connolly was killed. Her husband had not been able to identify his wife in the morgue because her face was so mangled.
Breige Voyle, one of her daughters, described the Parachute Regiment as a “disgrace” and said it should be disbanded. She said, “Unlike mummy, the Parachute Regiment only had hate in their hearts when they gunned down her and the others.
“They were not peacemakers, they were not brave soldiers. They were nothing but cowards. They shot my mummy, an unarmed mother-of-eight.
“They were cowards then, they were cowards now. They didn’t have the courage to appear at the inquest and face up to their crimes.
"They didn’t have the courage to answer our questions.
“We deserve answers. Why did they shoot my mummy? Why did they leave her in a field to die? What were their orders and who gave them? Who helped them covered up their cowardly act? Who ordered their lies to be told?”
She added this was the same regiment that “murdered innocent people in the streets in Derry a few months later”.
“They are a combat force, not peacekeepers, they have blood on their hands,” she said.
“They came here to wreak havoc killing and maiming wherever they went and then were given medals for their crimes."
It was cold-blooded murder
Eleven people were murdered—ten were shot and one had a heart attack—in the Ballymurphy Massacre.
British soldiers did this killing on the first night of internment—when people could be locked up indefinitely without trial.
At 5am on 9 August 1971 around 600 soldiers of the Parachute Regiment entered the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast from different directions.
They began booting in doors, and dragging people from their beds.
At the same time families were fleeing their homes in nearby Springfield Park as they came under attack from Loyalist mobs. People were being rounded up and shot at during a pogrom.
Joan Connolly was shot in the face, hand, shoulder and thigh and lay on waste ground for six hours, bleeding to death.
Noel Phillips was wounded so a soldier went up to him and executed him by shooting him once behind each ear with a handgun.
Father Hugh Mullan, a parish priest, was hit by at least two bullets as he read the last rites to an injured man. Francis Quinn went to help the shot priest so the soldiers shot him as well.
Soldiers carried out a mock execution of the wounded Pat McCarthy placing an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Pat died from a heart attack.
Jackson: a killer from Ireland to Iraq
The original inquests, in 1972, returned “open” verdicts. Following a campaign by the victims’ families, the North’s attorney general granted a request for fresh inquests in 2011.
The new inquests opened in November 2018 and concluded in March 2020 after hearing more than 100 days of evidence.
General Sir Mike Jackson gave evidence. He claimed The British Army “don’t do conspiracies”. As a man who covered up at least two massacres, it was an interesting defence.
Jackson was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on deployment in Belfast at the time.
He claimed, “I have absolutely no doubt the IRA were firing on soldiers and soldiers were firing on the IRA.”
A newspaper article published on 11 August described victims as gunmen—which they were not.
Jackson told the inquest he accepted it was likely he was the army captain quoted by the newspaper, although coincidentally he did not recall giving the interview.
Jackson was second in command of the Parachute Regiment when they shot dead 14 unarmed people after a civil rights march in Derry five months after the Ballymuprhy massacre.
He was later to command British forces during the invasion of Iraq.