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Soldiers shot dead labourer in 1971 as he threw explosive, inquest told

A labourer from Northern Ireland was shot dead by soldiers as he threw an explosive almost 50 years ago, a military statement before a new inquest said.

Barney Watt, 28, died in hotly disputed circumstances during a riot in nationalist Ardoyne in Belfast in February 1971.

His widow told the city centre coroner's court hearing her husband of six years was not an IRA member and his friend recalled he had never seen him engaged in Troubles-related disorder, which was then endemic in the sectarian flashpoint.

The Watt case is among the oldest outstanding inquests being re-examined following an order from Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC.

An account from a soldier known as Sgt C 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."

He was shot in the chest and buttock, a paramedic said.

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, illuminating the pitch-black street, but its occupants escaped by a back door.

As soldiers provided cover an eye witness described what had been relatively low-key disorder developing into scenes of panic.

Two gunshots from a supposed military weapon rang out.

Margaret McAteer was returning from a Belfast city centre bar with her then boyfriend and stopped to watch the trouble.

She saw the victim lying face down on the ground.

"I could still see the blood."

She said guns were not common then and Mr Watt was about the third person shot during the conflict.

Her then partner Patrick Murphy said he saw someone roll the device under the Saracen armoured vehicle, or pig as it was known to residents angered by what they saw as military harassment.

"I never saw anything go up as fast or as hard.

"It seemed to lift it a couple of feet off the ground and it was immediately engulfed in flames."

Ms McAteer added: "As far as I was concerned the people in that Saracen burned to death - which is a horrible feeling."

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

His partner Teresa Watt said: "If there was rioting Barney would have taken part, although he was not involved in any paramilitaries."

She said everybody in the area rioted at that time.

Mr Watt's friend Michael Mailey said he had never seen him involved in violence, rebutting earlier comments attributed to him which said he was sometimes at the front line and was full of bravado.

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