Belfast Telegraph

Army shooting victim to be exhumed

The body of a man shot dead by soldiers in Belfast over 40 years ago is to be exhumed, a coroner has ruled.

Joseph Murphy was injured during an incident now known as the "Ballymurphy massacre" in August 1971 and died 13 days later in hospital. Nine others were also killed.

Coroner Jim Kitson told a preliminary hearing in Belfast an exhumation order had been granted because of the "exceptional circumstances" of the case. Mr Kitson said: "I conclude that an order is necessary."

The family believe Mr Murphy was shot at a military barracks after being injured and that a bullet may still be lodged in his leg.

The coroner said if he had not ordered the exhumation the family would "forever be left wondering if an important piece of evidence" had been missed.

Mr Kitson added: "They have waited more than 40 years. They are entitled to expect that the investigation will be conducted with rigour."

Relatives of Mr Murphy wept as the ruling was given during a sitting at the city centre Laganside court complex.

Outside, his daughter, Janet Donnelly, who was eight years old at the time of his death, spoke of her relief.

She said: "I am shaking. I am glad that he (the coroner) made the right decision. I think it was the right decision. As the coroner said, we have waited over 40 years. My father always said he was shot inside the Army barracks.

"Hopefully, if we can retrieve this bullet, we can move forward.

"My father stated from his hospital bed that he was shot into his open wound. There was only one entrance wound and an exit wound.

"The HET (Historical Enquiries Team) uncovered new information to say there was a second bullet in my father's body. So, we just want to know, where did it come from?"

Mr Murphy, a father-of-12, was among 10 people killed during the Army operation which saw soldiers storm republican strongholds in west Belfast to arrest IRA suspects following the introduction of the controversial state policy of internment without trial.

Other victims during the three days of shooting included a Catholic priest and a mother-of-eight.

Relatives have long campaigned for an acknowledgement that their loved ones were wrongfully killed.

The new inquest was ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin in 2011. That move came after a cold case review of the deaths by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

As well as those shot dead in Ballymurphy, another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with soldiers. The new inquest only covers the deaths caused by gunfire.

Ms Donnelly added: "My father was just an ordinary father, an ordinary husband who just lived for his family.

"That night he went out and never came home."

John Teggart, a spokesman for the Ballymurphy families campaign group, described it as a "good day".

He said: "Most importantly it is a good day for the Murphy case and the Murphy family. But, it is also a good day for the campaign. It shows we can get results through the coroner's court even though it is under-funded and being attacked by the British Government and the parties who are signing up to scrapping the inquests."

Meanwhile, calls were also made for the coroner to summon a representative from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to explain delays in the disclosure process.

The court heard that personnel files belonging to eight soldiers were ready for final checks by the Coroner's Service before being disseminated to legal teams for the families.

But Karen Quinlivan QC, representing some of the next of kin, said the MoD had questions to answer about "inadequate" resources.

She said: "There is no indication that they have taken steps to resource themselves to deal with the scale of the task.

"The MoD allocation of resources is inadequate. Somebody should be made available to explain what is happening."

Ms Quinlivan also raised concerns about the disclosure of documents from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to the inquest.

However, a barrister for the military said the focus of the inquiry should be directed on the way forward, not on what has happened in the past.

Peter Coll said: "The MoD disclosure process is largely now complete.

"However it has been arrived at, we've arrived at it, in relation to the MoD.

"I hope that won't be taken as me trying to be difficult. I am not."

Issues around the scope of the inquest were also discussed during the hearing.

The case has been adjourned until February 6 2015.

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