Belfast Telegraph

Allan McVitie named as soldier who shot dead workman Henry Thornton in Belfast in 1971

By Rebecca Black

The soldier who shot dead Northern Ireland workman Henry Thornton on the Springfield Road, Belfast in 1971 has been named as Sergeant Allan McVitie.

Mr Thornton (29) from Silverbridge, Co Armagh had been driving along the Springfield Road in a van with a colleague Arthur Murphy when the vehicle suddenly backfired.

The incident took place outside a police station that had been repeatedly attacked during the Troubles.

Sg McVitie of the Parachute Regiment fired two shots at the van which resulted in Mr Thornton's sudden death.

Coroner Brian Sherrard named Sg McVitie during his final findings at a hearing at Laganside Court this morning.

Mr Sherrard ruled at a previous hearing in May 2016 that the killing of Mr Thornton was not 'necessary, reasonable or proportionate', adding there had been "other options available to stop or pursue the vehicle".

Mr Thornton - a father of six - died almost instantly when the soldier shot him through the rear of his Austin works van close to Springfield Road police station in west Belfast in August 1971.

He was unarmed and no weapon was found during a search of a van, despite claims by security personnel that they had seen a gun protruding from the driver's widow of the van.

Mr Thornton's death sparked serious rioting.

Within days, 10 other people had been shot dead by the Army in a period that the bereaved families refer to as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

The inquest into his death began in November 2015 and concluded on Wednesday morning.

In 2012, the government wrote a letter of apology to his widow Mary, confirming that her husband had been an "innocent man".

During the final session of the inquest on Wednesday a lawyer for the Ministry of Defence did not challenge the lifting of the anonymity order on naming Sg McVitie. He also passed on his condolences to the Thornton family.

Mr Sherrard said requests to lift anonymity orders will be looked at in each case.

Solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh thanked the coroner on behalf of the Thornton family.

Speaking outside court Mr Ó Muirigh said it had been a very fair and transparent inquest, "in stark contrast to the original inquest which was deeply flawed".

"We have been fighting for over 40 years now to clear the name of her (Mary Thornton) husband and the father of her children," he said.

"This day has come and it is very welcome. It shows that these legacy inquests can get to the truth and can assist families."

Mrs Thornton said she is happy with the outcome of the inquest, and that Sg McVitie had been named.

"The way I look at it, he shot him so why not," she said.

She said the inquest had been hard but agreed that it had brought some closure of her and her children.

Sg McVitie is deceased.

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