Ballymurphy massacre: first paratrooper eyewitness account of days 11 were killed
‘It was a war out there...no ballistics were taken so it’d be hopeless to look for any evidence’
Nigel Mumford is proud of his time in the Parachute Regiment, but admits that some soldiers did break the law. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph about his time serving in Northern Ireland, the ex-para paints a brutally honest picture of his time here.
It was a particularly vicious episode of the Troubles and Mr Mumford’s role as a medic saw him dealing with the aftermath of much violence in west Belfast.
In the first eyewitness account of Ballymurphy to be outlined by a para, Mr Mumford said: “I don’t like to speak against other paras, though some did break the law.”
Yet in 1998 he gave a statement to the Criminal Cases Review Commission which accused other members of the regiment of lying in court.
That ultimately led to the unravelling of the case against Liam Holden, who had been convicted of the murder of Frank Bell, a close friend and regimental colleague shot dead in Ballymurphy in September 1972.
Mr Bell’s murder happened in the lethal atmosphere which followed the internment swoops and Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971. Then Mr Mumford was stationed in Henry Taggart base. Several people, including Joan Connolly, a 50-year-old woman searching for her children, were shot from the base.
The prelude to the shootings was a round-up of republican suspects in an internment swoop.
“Not everybody who was arrested was IRA but all were brutally beaten when they were brought into the Taggart Hall.
“Most of them were naked or in their underclothes,” Mr Mumford recalled.
“The lads behaved very brutally and in the morning a massive crowd started throwing stones at us.”
Mumford admits goading locals by shouting: “Up with the IRA — by the neck”.
His punishment of collecting stones lying in the base was cut short when IRA gunfire from nearby houses sprayed the fence beside him. Soldiers had earlier shot people in other parts of the estate.
“A group of about 30 or 40 guys ran for the front gate and the man on sentry duty asked for permission to shoot — he thought they were going to take him out. Then a patrol went out to protect him and they all opened fire |and brought in nine people [wounded or dead] but there was a lot more shot than that” he said. “I only saw one innocent person getting shot, he was going to work walking between the two groups firing at each other. He got shot in the arm but the rest of them were all involved in attacking the camp.”
This account will be disputed by relatives of the dead. Mr Mumford does not claim everyone who died was armed but maintains all were part of a hostile crowd from which shooting originated.
He admits aiming two shots from a Browning “in the direction of the firing” and claims: “I am quite sure I didn’t hit anyone.” In the aftermath he tended the casualties.
“As a medic I looked after about 12 people shot that night,” he added. “On that day there were no ballistics taken. It was like bloody war with no police on the scene, so trying to collect evidence now would be hopeless,” he said.
He claimed the HET “is trying to get an ex-soldier to change his statement and implicate the lads from First Para. They are trying to get someone to give evidence that the Army actually committed a crime”.
A HET spokesman appealed for Mr Mumford and other witnesses to come forward. He said the HET did not envisage interviewing Mr Mumford under caution but as a witness.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was a senior republican in Ballymurphy but denies being an IRA member. He said yesterday: “None of the 11 dead in Ballymurphy had any connection to any armed group. They were all innocent civilians. Their deaths were part of a planned policy by the British government to pacify the community using the British Parachute Regiment.”