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Soldiers' account shot man Bernard Watt was throwing device not credible, says ex-pathologist

By Staff Reporter

Claims by ex-soldiers that a Belfast man was shot dead as he threw an explosive have been dismissed by Northern Ireland's former State Pathologist.

Professor Jack Crane told an inquest there was no evidence to support military claims that labourer Barney Watt was throwing a petrol bomb or incendiary device when soldiers opened fire almost 50 years ago.

Mr Watt (28) died in disputed circumstances during public disorder in Ardoyne in February 1971. He was shot in the chest and the buttock.

"There is no evidence to support the contention Mr Watt was shot while throwing an explosive device at military personnel," Professor Crane told Belfast Coroner's Court.

The retired pathologist's evidence to the court on the second day of the inquest contradicts previous claims from soldiers that Mr Watt was throwing a device.

After examining the evidence and original pathology reports, Professor Crane said he did not believe there were any injuries to indicate Mr Watt had been holding or throwing an explosive device or to suggest he had been propelled into the air by an explosive.

"Throughout the Troubles I have seen many injuries of people who had sustained injuries from throwing a pipe bomb or device. There's no evidence at all to suggest this man had been throwing something," he said.

"The soldiers' account is not credible."

Mr Watt's widow was in court to listen to proceedings.

A lawyer for the Watt family told the hearing that a witness had described seeing the victim with his hands in the air before he was shot.

On Monday the inquest heard an account from a soldier known as 'Sergeant C' who said: "He had something in his hand and I gained the impression this object was alight.

"My round struck him as he was turning with the throw. The man fell to the ground and as he did so the object he had in his hand exploded and blew him into Chatham Street so that only his upper body was visible."

The victim had been on a night out at a local pigeon club before he was killed.

An Army vehicle - part of an operation to make "snatch squad" arrests - had gone up in flames after it was hit with a nail bomb, but its occupants escaped out a back door.

The victim had a conviction for disorder from before the beginning of the Troubles.

His wife Teresa Watt previously told the court: "If there was rioting Barney would have taken part, although he was not involved in any paramilitaries."

Yesterday afternoon a retired soldier, referred to as 'Soldier E', said he had been on patrol in the area that night but he only discovered a few months ago that a man had been killed.

Giving evidence via video-link, he told the hearing he had received facial burns after the armoured vehicle he had been driving came under attack from a petrol bomb and a nail bomb.

The former soldier, who escaped from the burning vehicle moments before it was completely gutted, said he had not heard any gunfire. He also said the first time he became aware of Mr Watt's death was a couple of months ago when he was contacted by the coroner's investigator.

Coroner Joe McCrisken is due to deliver his report into Mr Watt's death this morning.

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