Belfast Telegraph

1972 shot boy witness identified

A teenage witness who could shed new light on the death of a schoolboy shot by a British Army rubber bullet has been identified, a court has heard.

Lawyers for the family of Francis Rowntree, who was struck by a projectile fired by a Royal Anglian Regiment soldier in west Belfast in 1972, have established the onlooker's name but are still trying to trace his whereabouts, a preliminary inquest hearing was told.

Previous proceedings had heard that one of the soldiers involved in the incident was in very poor health and would not be able to attend the new inquest.

A lawyer for the Ministry of Defence confirmed to coroner Jim Kitson that the MoD considered it "inconceivable" that he could give evidence.

Eleven-year-old Francis was hit by the rubber bullet as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex close to the Falls Road in April 1972. He died four days later from injuries including a fractured skull.

Controversy surrounds the shooting, with disputed claims on whether the young boy was fired on directly, or hit by a ricochet, and if the bullet had been doctored to make it potentially cause more injury.

The Rowntree family barrister, Fiona Doherty, said efforts were continuing to find the witness, who was 14 years old at the time. "His name has been traced but not where that person is," she said. "Himself and his family have moved out of the jurisdiction."

It is thought the man, who would now be in his mid-50s, may be living in Wales. It is understood he was not interviewed by the authorities in the wake of the incident, but did give an anonymised account to anti-rubber bullet campaigners.

Ms Doherty suggested to Mr Kitson that his office may have to make efforts to contact the man.

Mr Kitson confirmed that he would be willing to seek the man, with the police, to obtain a statement. "He would be in a position to provide extremely cogent evidence in this case," he said.

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