Ballymurphy: ‘The world is being told now what we knew all along’

White flags bear word ‘innocent’ as relatives of 10 victims welcome clearing of names

A judge-led inquiry has found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of nine of the 10 innocent people killed in an 1971 incident in Ballymurphy Belfast. Video: Reuters

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As the shadows lengthened in the evening sun, Ballymurphy welcomed its people home.

Throughout the area locals were at their doorsteps and on street corners, beating pots and pans, blowing whistles and beeping car horns in anticipation.

As the short procession approached, the noise got louder; they clapped and cheered as the families’ vehicles made their way through the narrow streets where, in August 1971, their loved ones were killed.

White flags flew from the car windows bearing a single word: “Innocent.”

This was the verdict they had been waiting 50 years for, the result of a campaign begun in 1998 by the relatives of the victims to clear their names.

Delivering her findings in Belfast on Tuesday, Mrs Justice Keegan found all 10 victims were “entirely innocent”; nine were shot by the British army and, in the case of the 10th, the “abject failure” to investigate at the time meant there was no evidence upon which to base a judgment.

‘Posed no threat’

In the vast, echoing hall of the International Convention Centre by the river Lagan, the coroner outlined what was known about the last moments of each of the victims.

Edward Doherty, an “innocent man who posed no threat” and was simply making his way home; John Laverty and Joseph Corr, “shot in the back while either crouching, crawling or prone”; Francis Quinn and the parish priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, both “innocent men” who went to help one of the injured.

The Teggart family with John Teggart, right, arrive at the International Convention Centre in Belfast for the Ballymurphy inquests. Photograph: Liam McBurney/ PA Wire
The Teggart family with John Teggart, right, arrive at the International Convention Centre in Belfast for the Ballymurphy inquests. Photograph: Liam McBurney/ PA Wire

Of Fr Mullan, Mrs Justice Keegan said she was “quite convinced he was a peacemaker” who had been waving a white object when he was shot in the back. Speaking after the verdict, his 81-year-old brother, Patsy, took comfort from her words.

‘All untrue’

“It was nice to hear that. He was a peacemaker. For 50 years, my brother was accused of being a gunman, which was all untrue. I knew it was untrue, but people didn’t know it.”

Later, in a press conference in Ballymurphy, a representative of each family described the verdict’s significance. Some broke down as they described the impact the killings had had on their family, or the many loved ones who did not live to hear it; as to the future, they would take time to reflect and discuss.

Carmel Quinn, whose brother John Laverty was shot, with her daughter Mary Kate Quinn at the International Convention Centre in Belfast where the inquests took place. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Carmel Quinn, whose brother John Laverty was shot, with her daughter Mary Kate Quinn at the International Convention Centre in Belfast where the inquests took place. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Anne Ferguson described how her father, John James McKerr, had fought in the British army during the second World War. She was “just stunned” at what she learned at the inquest about the behaviour of “an army my father was proud of”. The verdicts, said Alice Harper, “meant almost more than we could put into words. We always knew our daddy was innocent. Now the world knows.”

That evening, those waiting for them in Ballymurphy also knew. “The world is being told now what we knew all along,” says one woman. Her friend agrees. “It’s like something’s been lifted.”