Belfast Telegraph

Ballymurphy Major denies body was left in field as a punishment

An inquest is being held into the deaths of 10 men in Ballymurphy in August 1971 (Niall Carson/PA)
An inquest is being held into the deaths of 10 men in Ballymurphy in August 1971 (Niall Carson/PA)

By Brett Campbell

A mother-of-eight left lying in a field for up to five hours after being shot in the face in Ballymurphy in 1971 was not being punished by paratroopers, their former commander has claimed.

The ex-Army Major, known only as Witness M45, made the claim yesterday as he continued giving evidence at the inquest into the fatal shootings of 10 people almost 48 years ago.

The 86-year-old said Joan Connolly was wearing a distinctive yellow and brown checked coat and that, as the main "protagonist", she incited a crowd to attack Henry Taggart barracks on August 9, 1971.

He was asked by a barrister representing Mrs Connolly's relatives if he felt "uncomfortable" that she had been left "dead or alive" in an adjacent field known as the Manse until 1.47am the following day.

"Yes, in retrospect," the former Major replied.

When pressed as to why he felt that way, he said: "Humanity, I suppose."

However, he rejected the barrister's suggestion that soldiers left her body outside without knowing if she was alive or dead as a "punishment". "You can't punish a dead body," he said.

When told Mrs Connolly was in fact wearing a black and white coat on the day in question, Witness M45 said it was "half-light" when she was shot. "The first thing to go missing in those conditions is colour," he added.

He also rejected claims the base was being overrun by rioters as "completely untrue".

One of the barristers representing victims' families dismissed allegations from a number of military witnesses saying people had been "shooting from the hip" as being "like something out of a spaghetti western".

The witness agreed and accused a soldier called Mr Mumford of "trying to make a name for himself" by penning westerns. However, he did recall a crowd of people being "warned off in a big way" after they attempted to pull a fence down.

The retired soldier apologised for laughing at questions relating to events from decades ago and told the coroner he was struggling to understand the inquest.

"It's inquisitorial, yet I appear to be being attacked all the time," he said.

The ex-Major, who commanded B Company 2 Para, said he presumed his men were not already firing at a flat on Moyard Park when he ordered them to shoot at two gunmen on the balcony, killing at least one. However, a barrister for the next-of-kin suggested he was actually watching his men shoot into the Manse field, which they had "no justification" for doing.

Yesterday, barristers claimed there was no evidence that anyone was killed or injured in or outside the Moyard Park flat.

A representative for the family of another victim, Joseph Murphy, claimed Witness M45's men acted in an "ill-disciplined" and "unlawful" way when they fatally shot four people.

While the former commander accepted his soldiers may have made a mistake in shooting Mr Murphy, he denied allegations of abuse or misconduct.

Belfast Telegraph

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