Belfast Telegraph

Exhumation decision 'within weeks'

A decision on whether or not to exhume the body of a man killed in a controversial military operation in Northern Ireland over 40 years ago will be taken within weeks, a coroner's court has heard.

Joseph Murphy was among 10 people gunned down in west Belfast during three days of shootings involving the Parachute Regiment in 1971.

His family have called for the exhumation to ascertain if a bullet was left inside his body after autopsy.

Coroner Jim Kitson has requested written submissions from legal representatives for the Murphy family before making his final decision.

Sean Doran, counsel for the Coroner's Service said: "On receipt of that material the coroner can then proceed to rule on that matter."

The criteria under which a coroner can order an exhumation is more strict in Northern Ireland than in England.

The court also heard how Mr Kitson met with representatives from the State pathology department in August and was told resources were limited.

Barrister Laura McMahon, acting for the Murphy family, said they had found evidence as a "result of their own investigations" which may influence the coroner's decision.

Mr Murphy survived for 13 days after being shot but his family believe a soldier fired a second bullet through an open gunshot wound while he was in Army custody.

The court heard that the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) which carried out a review of the case, lawyers for Mr Murphy's next of kin and the Coroner's Service had failed to locate medical notes and records detailing his stay at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Mr Doran added: "The response from the [Belfast] Trust dated August 25 is that there are none.

"That line of inquiry has been exhausted."

A priest and a mother of eight were among the civilians shot dead by the soldiers during the episode, now widely referred to as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

An 11th person, who is not covered by the inquest proceedings, died of a heart attack after an alleged violent confrontation involving soldiers.

In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the actions of the paratroopers on Bloody Sunday after a long-running public inquiry by Lord Saville found the shootings had been unjustified, as the victims posed no threat.

But, in 2012 the Government rejected calls for a probe - on a smaller scale - into the events in Ballymurphy, insisting it was not in the public interest.

The coroner's court also heard about delays in handing over sensitive police and military material to the families' legal teams.

Even though there are only 20 short documents, Peter Coll, representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Ministry of Defence, could not give a definitive timescale for disclosure.

He said: "The sensitive materials in this case are not voluminous. This is not the only inquest that the unit within the PSNI have to deal with. That's not something I say lightly, that's just the reality."

Among the documents deemed relevant to the inquest are 33 folders of evidence resulting from the HET review as well as three lever arch files of non-sensitive military material such as contemporaneous logs, records and reports.

Barrister Sean Devine, who is representing the family of victim John Kerr, raised concerns that by not dedicating resources, the UK State was failing to live up to human rights obligations.

Mr Kitson demanded an update on the disclosure process by November 7, at the latest.

He said: "If this particular case is somewhere in a queue I would need to know."

The coroner added: "I am as anxious as anybody else that this case proceeds as expeditiously as possible."

Another preliminary hearing has been scheduled for November 24.

Speaking afterwards, John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot 14 times, said they hoped the MoD would not slow down the disclosure of documents.

He said: "The families are happy the way things went today.

"There is steady progress. We hope the MoD will not be dragging their feet with the disclosure of all documents and coroner Jim Kitson will keep them on track of the work ahead."

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