Belfast Telegraph

Family call to exhume Joseph Murphy

The family of one of 10 people shot dead by British soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 want his body exhumed amid claims he was fired on a second time when in Army custody, a coroner's court has heard.

Relatives of Joseph Murphy, a father of 12, are to officially request the move in a bid to test conflicting medical evidence on whether one or two bullets entered his body.

Mr Murphy, 41, lived for 13 days after being shot in Ballymurphy and during that time he alleged that, when he was hit by the first bullet in the upper thigh, soldiers then brought him into a nearby barracks and shot him again through the same wound.

While Mr Murphy thought a plastic bullet had been fired into the open wound, his family allege a live round may have been used.

Ten people died as result of gunfire injuries, among them a Catholic priest and mother of eight, sustained over three days of shooting in August 1971 - an episode relatives refer to as the Ballymurphy massacre - while another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with soldiers.

As with Bloody Sunday in Londonderry six months later, soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were involved in the fatal shootings in Ballymurphy.

A new inquest into the 10 deaths caused by gunfire was ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC in 2011 and the opening preliminary hearing in Belfast Coroner's Court has taken place.

Solicitor Mark O'Connor, representing Mr Murphy's family, told coroner Jim Kitson the relatives would be asking for exhumation to find out if a bullet was left in the body.

Mr O'Connor explained that despite there being an entry and exit wound, a surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital who treated Mr Murphy said he had found a bullet lodged in his body - suggesting two rounds had entered.

But the lawyer said a pathologist who conducted the subsequent post mortem found no evidence of a bullet.

"In this post mortem there is no indication of any bullet being recovered from the body," he said.

Mr O'Connor told the coroner Mr Murphy's leg had been amputated as doctors battled to save his life but a recent review of the shootings by the police's Historical Enquiries Team could give "no indication" whether the bullet had been removed from the limb.

He said Mr Murphy had told his wife Mary that soldiers had shot him again inside Henry Taggart base in Ballymurphy.

"He told her that a rubber bullet was shot into his leg at the point of the previous wound," he said.

The solicitor said the family believed exhumation was the only option to establish what happened.

A formal request to examine Mr Murphy's remains is set to be made at a subsequent preliminary hearing, with Mr Kitson making the decision on whether to grant the move.

After the hearing, Mr Murphy's daughter Janet Donnelly said: "My daddy said he was shot into his open wound, he thought it was a plastic bullet, now the family are saying this hasn't been a plastic bullet, I believe it to be a live round - it's the only explanation."

She added: "There is only one entrance wound but there's an exit wound, so where did the second bullet come from, so that's what I am asking, that's why I am asking for the body to be lifted."

The shootings took place as the British Army moved into republican strongholds in west Belfast to arrest IRA suspects in the wake of the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Soldiers claimed they had come under attack and had returned fire.

Relatives have long campaigned for an acknowledgement that their loved ones were wrongfully killed.

Karen Quinlivan QC, representing the majority of families, told Mr Kitson the military's response to internment should be examined as part of the inquest.

Noting what happened in Derry in January 1972, when 13 people were shot dead by paratroopers during a civil rights demonstration, the barrister said it would be important to establish if any soldiers were involved in both incidents.

Acknowledging that a different battalion of the Parachute Regiment was involved in Bloody Sunday, Ms Quinlivan said there was nevertheless still the chance of some cross over.

"There is the potential for overlap," she said.

The lawyer also said many of those injured in Ballymurphy were not asked to give police statements in the wake of the shootings and were not called to the original inquest.

She said while solicitors had subsequently attempted to take some statements, some people may still need to be traced for the new inquest.

Ms Quinlivan said fresh statements may also need to be taken from soldiers involved.

Peter Coll, representing the MOD and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), outlined potential time frames for disclosing documents relating to the incident.

Mr Kitson said there was a "substantial amount" of preparatory work that needed to be completed prior to the inquest sitting.

He agreed to hold another preliminary hearing at the end of the month to outline a schedule and timeline for tasks to be completed.

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