Fatal shooting of Belfast man by British soldiers in 1971 was ‘unjustified’
Coroner Joe McCrisken dismissed claims from soldiers that Barney Watt was throwing an explosive device when he was shot.
The fatal shooting of a Belfast man by British soldiers during rioting in 1971 was unjustified, a coroner has ruled.
Coroner Joe McCrisken dismissed claims from the soldiers that Barney Watt was throwing an explosive device when he was shot.
Following a four-day inquest in Belfast Mr McCrisken also said he did not believe that the 28-year-old had been a member of the IRA.
Mr Watt died in hotly disputed circumstances during public disorder in nationalist Ardoyne in Belfast in February 1971. Soldiers said he was shot while throwing a device at military personnel.
However, Mr McCrisken ruled: “I am satisfied, based upon the evidence available to me at inquest, that Barney Watt was not the man described by the soldiers holding the explosive device.
“Based upon the evidence presented at inquest the use of lethal force against Barney Watt by military personnel was not justified.”
The original inquest into Mr Watt’s death, which took place in July 1971, recorded an open verdict. His family always disputed the evidence presented at the inquest.
The second inquest was launched following an order from Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC.
Mr Watt’s widow Teresa said she was glad to have finally cleared her husband’s name. They were only married six years when he died.
Clutching a photograph of their wedding day, she said: “I feel great. The last 46 years were difficult. I am glad it is all sorted and his name is cleared. I still have his pictures in the house. You never forget.”
Family lawyer Padraig O’Muirigh said: “This was a very strong judgment, in stark contrast to the original investigation, which was deeply flawed.”
He added: “The Watt family have fought for 46 years. Today we have a proper verdict which says Barney Watt was not a bomber and lethal force was not justified.”
In his findings, Mr McCrisken described Mr Watt as a “hard-working man” with an “infectious personality”.
He said he was satisfied that Mr Watt had taken part in riots and that he was a “willing participant” in the riot on the night he was killed.
However, he said there was no evidence to support the soldiers’ account that he was throwing any sort of explosive device when he was shot.
Earlier, a witness had told the court that he had seen Mr Watt standing with his hands in the air in surrender when he was shot.