Belfast Telegraph

Ballymurphy troops quest continues

The Army has not identified all the paratroopers involved in a hugely controversial operation in west Belfast in which 10 people were shot dead, a coroner's court has heard.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) also revealed that it would be impossible to trace the weapons used in three days of shooting in Ballymurphy in 1971 as serial numbers were not recorded after the incident.

The disclosures were made during a preliminary hearing in Belfast ahead of a new inquest into an episode the bereaved families refer to as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

Lawyers representing relatives had asked the MoD to cross reference the personnel files of the soldiers to establish if they had been involved in other lethal force incidents in Northern Ireland around the same period.

Family members have long believed paratroopers on the ground in Ballymurphy may have also been in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday six months later, when 14 civilians were fatally wounded during a civil rights protest.

In providing a response to the cross referencing request, a barrister representing the MoD and police said there was no objection in principle to conducting the exercise but revealed not all the soldiers involved in Ballymurphy had been identified.

Dr Tony McGleenan QC told coroner Jim Kitson: "I believe not all have been, but a number have."

Mr Kitson instructed that the cross referencing should commence on the personnel files of the soldiers the MoD was aware of.

"If there are additional witnesses that need to have that exercise done to their personnel files then they can be added to our list of persons," he explained.

Later Dr McGleenan told the court, which was full with members of the Ballymurphy families, that the MoD would not be able to trace the specific weapons used.

"It's not been possible to trace the specific weapons," he said.

"The serial numbers of the weapons discharged were not recorded at that time."

He added: "It will be possible to obtain weapons of a similar type but not the actual weapons."

Sean Devine, representing some of the bereaved relatives, expressed concern.

"It is a matter of disappointment," he said.

"Especially as in other historic inquests weapons were capable of being traced."

The family of the one of the victims, Joseph Murphy, are bidding to have his body exhumed to ascertain if a bullet was left in his body after autopsy.

His family contend that the bullet was fired by a soldier through an already open gunshot wound when Mr Murphy was being held in Army custody after sustaining his initial injury.

The Murphy family's lawyer Laura McMahon said the need to identify the weapons used were particularly relevant in their specific case.

"This is an important issue in relation to that," she said.

The new inquest was ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin in 2011. That move came after a cold case review of the deaths by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

As well as those shot dead in Ballymurphy, another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with soldiers. The new inquest only covers the deaths caused by gunfire.

At this morning's hearing Mr Kitson told lawyers he was due to meet with experts from the State Pathology department next week to discuss the feasibility of conducting a review of the original pathology evidence.

In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the actions of the paratroopers on Bloody Sunday after a long-running public inquiry by Lord Saville found the shootings had been unjustified, as the victims posed no threat.

But earlier this year, the Government rejected calls for a probe - on a smaller scale - into the events in Ballymurphy, insisting it was not in the public interest.

The next preliminary inquest hearing will take place in September.

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