Inquest bid to find soldiers fails
Efforts to locate 35 soldiers potentially involved in a controversial Army operation that resulted in a man being shot dead at a Christmas dance in Belfast are proving fruitless, a coroner has been told.
Father of one Joseph Parker, 25, was fatally injured in disputed circumstances when soldiers opened fire at a community centre in the Ardoyne area in the north of the city during a disco in December 1971.
Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin has ordered a fresh inquest to be held after new, apparently conflicting, evidence emerged about the incident.
A preliminary hearing in Belfast today was told that the MoD had not been able to make contact with dozens of former soldiers who could potentially be called as witnesses.
The military sent letters recorded delivery in early December to addresses they had obtained for 20 of the soldiers. Coroner Jim Kitson was told that two had been returned undelivered, one widow had been in touch to inform the MoD her husband had died, while the other 17 remained unanswered. A lawyer representing the coroner noted that the ex-soldiers had been given until the end of January to reply.
Ronan Daly also informed the court that the MoD had already established that seven soldiers were dead while they had been unable to find any addresses for eight other potential witnesses.
The shooting episode unfolded when troops entered Toby's Hall, which no longer exists, claiming to be searching for a suspect.
Confrontations ensued and soldiers said they fired a series of shots into the roof and walls amid concerns for their safety - claims which were disputed by witnesses.
Mr Parker, from Eskdale Gardens in Ardoyne, who moments earlier had been dancing with his sister, was shot in both thighs. He died two days later. His wife had been expecting their second child at the time of his death.
Peter Coll, representing the MoD, conceded the response to the letters had not been positive but expressed hope some of the men may get in touch before the end of the month deadline.
"The picture at the minute is not perhaps as fortuitous as we all would have liked," he said.
"But we are dealing with people involved in events a long time ago and that presents obvious difficulties.
"The hope is further responses will come by the end of January and we will re-group at the end of January to see what further steps can be taken."
Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh, representing the Parker family, expressed disappointment at the response to the letters.
"The picture is bleak," he said.
The lawyer stressed that some replies may yet materialise before the deadline and also urged the MoD to make further efforts to trace the soldiers for whom addresses had not yet been found.
He noted that one such individual had published a book on his time in the Army and had also appeared on a TV documentary and could therefore potentially be reached through the respective publishers and broadcasters.
Mr Kitson scheduled another preliminary hearing for Wednesday February 25 so the court could be informed of progress.