Belfast Telegraph

Ballymurphy soldier excused from giving evidence at inquest due to his Alzheimer's disease

Challenge: Karen Quinlivan QC
Challenge: Karen Quinlivan QC
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A retired British soldier with memory loss will not have to give evidence at the Ballymurpy inquest, a judge has ruled.

It emerged yesterday that the ex-serviceman, known only as 'Soldier M12', has been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The pensioner, who is understood to have been a member of Support Company 2 Para, was on duty near Springfield Park, where Father Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn were shot dead.

Ten people killed by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in west Belfast between August 9 and 11, 1971.

Medical reports indicated that the former soldier, who had expressed a strong desire to give evidence at the inquest, was experiencing "significant cognitive impairment" as a result of the condition, which is in its early stages.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) barrister argued the ex-soldier was unable to recall past events due to memory loss and that any attempt to question him would be an act of "humiliation".

"He is not able to provide a reliable witness testimony," the barrister said.

The legal representative told the inquest that M12 was unable to recall new information within minutes of learning it.

"He appears to provide implausible answers to fill memory gaps," they said.

The soldier is also said to talk incoherently about the IRA and show signs of confabulation - a memory condition defined as the production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories without the conscious intention to deceive.

"He may provide answers which are superficially plausible but inaccurate," the lawyer said.

However a barrister for the next of kin claimed the MoD was "trying to have its cake and eat it" by maintaining that witness statements obtained from M12 last year should be read into the record.

Karen Quinlivan QC said the exact same argument put forward by the MoD applied in "equal force" to M12's written statements.

Delivering her ruling, coroner Mrs Justice Keegan excused M12 from having to attend the inquest. However, she stressed that she did not take such decisions lightly.

Mrs Keegan accepted it was clear from the medical evidence that M12 suffered from "a significant cognitive impairment" and would not be able to provide "reliable witness testimony".

The court heard that while the former solider has Alzheimer's disease, he has recently been in hospital for another condition which may require inpatient treatment.

The coroner, who noted that she believed M12 was cooperative and was keen to attend the inquest, also noted expert medical advice that he was at higher risk of suffering a stroke because of his illness.

She did not consider special measures to be realistic and she concluded that it would be "totally unfair on him and of no assistance to me to compel him to attend".

Hearings for the Ballymurphy inquest are due to resume on April 29, following an Easter recess.

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