Ballymurphy massacre soldiers 'well pleased' after shootings, general tells inquest
A former paratroop commander has told the inquest into the deaths of 10 people in west Belfast in 1971 that his soldiers thought they "had done their duty and were well pleased" when he arrived at the scene shortly after the shootings.
On his second day of evidence, families of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre heard General Sir Geoffrey Howlett tell the courtroom his men were not "on a high" afterwards, although he admitted the men who had fired shots at civilians were "quite excited".
But General Howlett (89), who was commanding B Company 2 Para based at Henry Taggart Hall on the Springfield Road on the day internment was introduced in August 1971, denied his troops were celebrating the deaths.
The general said the situation he experienced at the time amounted to "almost warlike conditions".
He was questioned as to whether that led him to be personally responsible for permitting or encouraging troops to beat up and shoot civilians with impunity.
"No," he replied. "I hope that my soldiers would be obedient, do what they were told, and act toughly but reasonably."
General Howlett repeated his evidence from the previous day that he believed the people shot outside the base were not in the IRA, but that some may have been "associated" by involving themselves in the riot "in sympathy with and helping" IRA gunmen.
When quizzed over the death of Fr Hugh Mullan, he accepted that he was not a member of the IRA, as well as "the probability" that the priest was not associated with the IRA.
"I do not believe he was shot on purpose," he said.
But he refused to back down on previous evidence that Frank Quinn, shot while trying to help Fr Mullan, could still have been associated with the IRA.
The coroner asked the general how he could come to that view. He replied that any armed group bringing "first aiders" with them could expect those people to be considered associated with them, though he added that did not mean they should be shot.
The comments were later clarified, with General Howlett agreeing that someone caught in the crossfire or coming to the assistance of an innocent person would not have been associated with the IRA.
He added that it would have been "a bad day's work if everyone his soldiers shot were the wrong people".
After General Howlett's evidence concluded, Pat Quinn, brother of Frank Quinn, said his family had been left hurt and upset.
"I couldn't believe it. It's lucky my sisters weren't there. It would have been too much for them," he said.
"He didn't care about my brother. I think they were glad about what they'd done - thinking they'd done their duty well was a disgrace."
His comments were echoed by John Teggart, whose father Danny was one of those killed. He said he believed "the soldiers had deemed anything that moved as an associate of the IRA".
"I was glad the general gave his evidence, but I wasn't glad at the evidence he gave," Mr Teggart said. "I thought he'd be more apologetic, but after hearing the past two days any apology would have been empty."
Later the inquest heard from the former major in charge of B Company 2 Para.
Granted anonymity by the coroner, witness M45 described the first day of internment and how his men arrested 18 suspects early in the morning of August 9, 1971. He described the rioting at the Henry Taggart base throughout the rest of the day, with soldiers firing 38 rubber bullets and discharging 11 CS gas cannisters as the base came under attack from petrol bombs, nail bombs and gunfire.
He said he had provided his own briefings to his men on when they would be allowed to fire their weapons, rather than relying on the 'yellow card' rules of engagement for soldiers.
"You cannot deal with a riotous situation if you're looking all the time at a yellow card," he said.
The inquest continues.