Ballymurphy massacre inquests set to open next week

Families welcome announcement, say they hope hearings will bring truth about killings

Briege Voyle, the daughter of a mother of eight killed in shootings involving British soldiers, outside the coroner’s court in Belfast. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Briege Voyle, the daughter of a mother of eight killed in shootings involving British soldiers, outside the coroner’s court in Belfast. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

The families of 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 have welcomed the announcement that the inquests into the killings will formally begin next week.

At a preliminary inquest hearing at Laganside Court on Monday, Ms Justice Siobhan Keegan, who will preside over the inquests, outlined how the cases will be heard over the coming months.

What is often described as the Ballymurphy Massacre or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday happened during Operation Demetrius, the introduction of internment without trial, in August 1971.

Over three days from August 11th to 13th, ten people including a priest who had gone to the aid of one of victims and a 50-year-old mother of eight children were shot dead. It was originally believed they were killed by British soldiers, but the UVF said recently it was responsible for some of the deaths.

An eleventh victim of the violence, does not come under the terms of the inquest. Paddy McCarthy died from a heart attack after a soldier allegedly put an empty gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Opening statements about the killings will begin in the court next Monday, Ms Justice Keegan explained, and this will be followed by personal family statements about each of the 10 people who were killed.

The judge said that she hopes to begin hearing evidence from November 28th. The hearings will up to six months, said one legal source.

Apprehensive

The judge e Keegan said the inquests were “important” and would be conducted in an “open” fashion.

Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed in Ballymurphy, welcomed the development but said she was apprehensive.

“It is a bit scary to be honest. We have waited this long for it to come. It is a wee bit hard to believe that it is actually happening, but at the same time we are so glad that it is here, that we think after 47 years we are going to get some form of truth” said Ms Voyle.

She hoped that the British Ministry of Defence would “play ball” with the inquest but feared it was trying to stall proceedings. “At the end of the day our loved ones were innocent. We know they were innocent, we just need them to come in and tell the world that they are innocent,” she said.

“We hope that the whole truth will come out. Basically what we want to find out is why did these soldiers take it into their own hands to murder 11 innocent people over a period of three days,” she said.

She added that as a result of the shootings, “37 children were left without a parent”, including herself and her seven siblings.

Stigma

“We have had to live with this, the stigma of it, because when they said my mummy was a gunwoman, they basically labelled our family as well. You have to live with that. Hopefully when we get into court the truth gets told that our loved ones are innocent,” she said.

Recently the Ulster Volunteer Force said that its members were involved in some of the killings.

Ms Voyle expressed scepticism about this admission. “We don’t know where they are coming from,” she said. “They had the chance over 47 years to say it was involved in some of the killings. But they didn’t. Why now all of a sudden?”

The inquest will examine 10 deaths: those of Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly and Daniel Teggart who were shot on August 9th, 1971 and the subsequent death of Joseph Murphy who was shot on that date but died on August 22nd; the death of Edward Doherty on August 10th; the death of John Laverty on August 11th; and the deaths of John James Mc Kerr and Joseph Corr who were both shot on August 11th but died on August 20th and August 27th, respectively.