Ballymurphy families' joy after inquest date is set
The families of 10 people shot dead by soldiers in Ballymurphy more than four decades ago celebrated yesterday after a date for a full inquest hearing was set.
They applauded in the courtroom and cheered as they left the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast after the date was fixed for September 11 next year.
Speaking outside the court John Teggart, whose father was one of the victims of the 1971 'Ballymurphy massacre', welcomed the "overdue" decision.
"It's a very emotional day. Although we are talking about 16 months down the line, this is fantastic," he said.
"There has been frustration, which has been shared by Judge Colton, over people dragging their heels, particularly at the MoD."
Mr Teggart also expressed unease after it emerged during the preliminary hearing that a key piece of evidence was missing.
"It's very concerning that it has been lost and there are serious questions as to why police were in possession of it, why was it not placed with the other evidence," he said.
Justice Colton agreed that a missing bullet taken from the body of Noel Phillips was an "important piece of narrative" when Michael Mansfield QC said serious questions needed to be asked. "We understand it is now missing altogether and what is important is how that came about," said Mr Mansfield.
"It was with the PSNI and returned to FSNI in 2007, but where was it exactly before that and what happened it to it?" Concerns were also raised at the MoD's failure to provide a cipher list, which has caused problems in sourcing witnesses. Mr Mansfield said he "hopes that these were not being destroyed while litigation was a prospect" before suggesting alternative means.
Referring to media publications from the early Seventies which named members of the security forces - including Soldier Magazine and the London Gazette - Mr Mansfield said it was possible to obtain backdated copies.
Justice Colton expressed frustration and disappointment at progress in relation to sourcing witnesses.
Mr Teggart called the slow progress an "absolute disgrace".
"All these things have been building up in an attempt to stop the truth, but what are they hiding," he asked.
"Today my father is classed as a gunman and someone who shot him has been given recommendations for bravery."
An emotional Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was also shot by the Army, broke down outside the court as she hailed the decision.
"We families have waited 46 years for this and it should have been here sooner," she said.
"But thank God somebody has listened to us and we are going to get our day in court and our loved ones will be declared innocent at last."
Justice Colton told the court that the entire budget for legacy inquests had been used up, or will be used up, for the current year and his decision to list the case for next year seemed the only fair way to deal with it.