Belfast Telegraph

Ambush on my patrol showed IRA out in force in Ballymurphy, ex-Para captain tells hearing

Relatives of the dead outside the inquest in Belfast yesterday
Relatives of the dead outside the inquest in Belfast yesterday
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A former Parachute Regiment captain who had a lucky escape from an ambush on a convoy he was travelling in has told a court that the 1971 attack proved the IRA was out "in force" in Ballymurphy.

Yesterday the military witness told the inquest into the deaths of 10 people in what is known as the Ballymurphy Massacre how two Land Rovers came under attack in the early hours of August 11 while passing along the Falls Road in Anderstontown.

Witness M226 was based at 2 Para headquarters in Springfield Road RUC station and served as the adjutant to Lt Col Geoffrey Howlett, the then battalion commander.

"The commanding officer was in front and I was following when were ambushed on the way," he said. "Three tyres were shot out (on the vehicle in front) and my Land Rover was peppered in bullet holes.

"No one returned fire. We were extremely lucky we weren't hit."

He said the 1am attack "shows that the IRA was out on the streets in force" following the introduction of internment, which had little support within the Army.

"I certainly didn't think it was a good idea," he added.

M226 also recalled being given a list of some 250 names and addresses by the RUC before rioting broke out on August 9, 1971.

"They were lifted early in the morning, it was carried out between 4am and 4.30am," he said.

"South west Belfast almost immediately degenerated into severe civil disorder."

The witness said the extent of the violence - which included bomb attacks and shootings - meant soldiers were unable to go on the streets to confront rioters as "chaos and anarchy" unfolded.

"It was too dangerous to do so," he said. "Only at night could soldiers go out to establish law and order."

The witness said it was for this reason that both he and Lt Col Howlett were unable to leave the HQ control room for almost four days. As a result he said he did not witness any of the Ballymurphy shootings and told the court he had no recollection of visiting B Company on the day six people were fatally shot.

The witness also told the inquest that soldiers, who normally carried two rifle magazines loaded with 20 rounds, made a request for more ammunition through their company commander, who was best suited to judge whether it was necessary.

M226, who served numerous tours here, said it was "probably a flawed exercise" for him to try and recall the deaths in Ballymurphy and said he could not recall details of reports and radio communication.

Almost 20 pages of transcripts reveal messages referring to "five possible kills at Ballymurphy" and "soldiers being pinned down" at another location, although no corresponding detail is contained in battalion logs.

The court has had difficulty locating a number of logs including one which would have documented the events which transpired in the Manse field opposite Henry Taggart Army base where four people died.

M226, who was the duty watch keeper responsible for preparing logs at the time, said battalion logs and post operational reports would give a bigger picture compared to the instantaneous logs he compiled which were not verbatim accounts.

"They are certainly not infallible," he added. "I can't put my hand on my heart and say absolutely everything that happened was recorded."

The inquest continues.

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