Belfast Telegraph

Not enough resources to dig up 'Ballymurphy Massacre' victim

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Pathologists lack the resources to exhume the body of a man killed during the controversial Ballymurphy military operation more than 40 years ago, 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 called for the exhumation to ascertain if a bullet was left inside his body after autopsy.

But coroner Jim Kitson told a preliminary hearing in Belfast that resources were limited.

He said: "State pathology told us they do not have the capacity to do that at this stage in time."

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

Mr Kitson has requested written submissions from legal representatives for the Murphy family before he makes a final decision.

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

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

Mr Murphy survived for 13 days after being shot, but his family believes that a soldier fired a second bullet through an already 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.

A priest and a mother-of-eight were among the civilians shot dead in the episode, now widely called 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 paratroopers in Bloody Sunday after a public inquiry by Lord Saville found the shootings had been unjustified because the victims posed no threat.

But in 2012, the Government rejected calls for a probe – on a smaller scale – into the events in Ballymurphy and insisted that 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 PSNI 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 are 33 folders of evidence from the HET review and three lever arch files of non-sensitive military material such as logs.

Mr Kitson demanded an update on disclosure by November 7.

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

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