Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Boy-shooting soldier 'has dementia'

The unnamed soldier who fired a rubber bullet that killed a Belfast boy in 1972 is too ill to attend an inquest, an MoD solicitor told a court

The soldier who fired a rubber bullet that killed a Belfast schoolboy over 40 years ago is too ill to attend an inquest, a court heard.

Ken Boyd, a solicitor for the Ministry of Defence, told a preliminary hearing in Belfast the Royal Anglian Regiment soldier, whose identity has been protected and was referred to as Soldier A, had developed dementia.

Eleven-year-old Francis Rowntree was hit by a rubber bullet as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex near the Falls Road in west Belfast in April 1972 and died four days later from injuries including a fractured skull.

Mr Boyd said the soldier was interviewed as part of a probe by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) set up to re-examine Troubles-related deaths but according to the HET report had no recollection of the events. Mr Boyd added: "Whether that is to do with the dementia or time I do not know."

The solicitor said a number of civilian witnesses had provided conflicting evidence about the circumstances.

Coroner John Leckey said if the soldier was too sick to participate in future proceedings a medical certificate must be provided to the court.

It has not been fully established whether the rubber bullet was fired directly at the young boy or if it stuck him as a result of a ricochet.

The Rowntree family barrister, Fiona Doherty, raised concerns that it may have been altered to cause maximum damage.

Proceedings were due to begin last November but were dramatically halted when Mr Leckey, Northern Ireland's senior coroner, questioned whether the Attorney General had exceeded his powers and raised concerns about national security.

The Rowntree family and a number of others launched a legal challenge against the suspension and it was lifted last month.

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