Family call for body of one of Ballymurphy victims to be exhumed

Coroner also investigating if Bloody Sunday soldiers were involved in Ballymurphy killings

The coroner in the inquest into the so-called Ballymurphy Massacre is to decide if the body of one of the 11 victims should be exhumed to help determine if a British soldier shot him sometime after he had been wounded, detained and brought to an army barracks in west Belfast.

The victim’s daughter said today that inside the base a soldier shot him directly into an “open wound” he had already suffered.

The Ballymurphy families welcomed the opening in Belfast of the preliminary stage of the inquest into the August 1971 killings in which 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 by British soldiers directly after the introduction of internment without trial.

An eleventh victim, who 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.


Most if not all of the killings were carried out by members of the Parachute Regiment just months before the same regiment was involved in the Bloody Sunday killings which resulted in the deaths of 14 innocent civilians.

Similar to the initial Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday the first inquest into the Ballymurphy killings was dismissed by the families as a travesty and a "sham" because of the failure to call many civilian witnesses. In 2011 the North's Attorney General John Larkin ordered a fresh inquest into the killings. This followed a long campaign by the family which was supported by the Irish Government.

Coroner Jim Kitson as part of the inquest will also seek to determine were any soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday also involved in the Ballymurphy killings. The killings happened over three days between August 9th and 11th 1971, with the British army saying it fired in response to gunfire from republicans.

Mark O'Connor, solicitor for the family of 41-year-old Joseph Murphy who was shot on August 9th but survived for 13 days, told Mr Kitson he was seeking the exhumation of Mr Murphy's body. On his death bed Mr Murphy told his wife Mary, who is still alive aged 82, that he was shot outside the Henry Taggart British army base in west Belfast. Mr Murphy told his wife when he was brought inside the base that he was shot again by one of the soldiers, said the solicitor.

The families have long contended that a number of the victims were also shot and beaten in the Henry Taggart base after the initial shootings. After the inquest concluded yesterday Mr Murphy's daughter Janet Donnelly explained why they wanted the exhumation.

“There was a bullet left in my father’s body and it was not mentioned in the autopsy report,” she said. “My father claimed to have been shot inside the Henry Taggart base. He thought it was a rubber bullet and that it was shot into an open wound,” she said. The information about the alleged second shooting emerged from a relatively recent investigation by the Historical Enquiry Team which inquires into past killings of the Troubles.

“I believe it wasn’t a rubber bullet, that it was a live round,” said Ms Donnelly, who added that her father also said he was badly beaten inside the Henry Taggart base. He had a leg amputated after the shooting but died from his injuries.

Mr Kitson today heard submissions from lawyers for the families and also from barrister Peter Coll, who is representing the British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI.

Mr Kitson is due to decide later this month when the full inquest can proceed.

Karen Quinlivan, QC, representing most of the families said there was "large body of civilian evidence which was not collected by police at the time".

The Ballymurphy families are campaigning for an independent panel chaired by the North’s former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan to carry out a separate inquiry into the killings. The British government has so far resisted this demand.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times