Belfast Telegraph

Ballymurphy soldiers had 'remarkable' self-control, says ex-Major

The families outside court yesteday as the Ballymurphy inquests continue
The families outside court yesteday as the Ballymurphy inquests continue

By Brett Campbell

Paratroopers who killed 10 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971 showed "remarkable forbearance" before opening fire, their former commander has claimed.

The ex-Army Major, known only as Witness M45, made the claim as he continued giving evidence yesterday at the inquest into the controversial deaths almost 50 years ago.

He said B Company 2 Para was attacked with "bricks, stones, bottles, petrol bombs, the odd nail bomb" as early as 5.30am on the first day of internment.

"They were killer stones, killer bricks," he added. "If they had hit a soldier, they would have done major harm. The forbearance they showed that day was remarkable."

Witness M45, who chuckled at a number of questions, also rejected the suggestion that soldiers deliberately shot into a field full of unarmed civilians.

He said banners reading "disperse or we'll fire" had been used because gunmen often infiltrated crowds during disorder, but he denied soldiers had been trained to shoot in such circumstances.

The witness also denied having a "handsome list" of IRA suspects used to check if four people killed in a field had been members of the terrorist group.

Instead, he insisted the list he had only documented the 18 men who had been arrested early that morning and was not an exhaustive list of individuals to be rounded up.

"We didn't shoot Gerry Adams and he was one of them," the former Army Major said.

Mr Adams lived opposite the Henry Taggart Army base at the time and his home was under surveillance.

Witness M45 told the inquest that slain mother-of-eight Joan Connolly was "one of the protagonists" in the field opposite the barracks and that he saw her "work up" the crowd.

"She was at the forefront of the crowd and was making a great deal of noise," he added. "I could not say she threw stones because I can't remember."

Witness M45 said her body lay in the field all day after she was killed because "soldiers did not want to risk their lives" by recovering it.

He said he did not order anyone to shoot into the field, nor did he observe soldiers shooting in that direction or see gunfire coming from the field as he was elsewhere at the time.

The witness did order soldiers to shoot at a Moyard Park flat where he claimed two gunmen were firing from.

He could not account for why soldiers claimed to have fired 60 shots but said he observed a man lying dead over the balcony railings who was still there the next morning.

However, a barrister for the next-of-kin claimed that version of events was untrue because ITN footage and Belfast Telegraph photos of the property showed no evidence that anyone was killed or injured the day after "indiscriminate" gunfire.

She was referring to witnesses who said they had entered the flat to rescue two infants who survived the sustained gunfire.

Witness M45 also claimed that the death of Fr Hugh Mullan (38) in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park was "good press" because it resonated with Catholics who "would make what they could of it".

Belfast Telegraph

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