Belfast Telegraph

Barney Watt inquest: Shooting of Belfast man by British soldiers 'unjustified'

The fatal shooting of a Belfast man by British soldiers in 1971 was unjustified, Belfast Coroner's Court has ruled.

Coroner Joe McCrisken dismissed claims from the soldiers that Barney Watt was throwing an explosive device when he was shot.

Following a four-day inquest in Belfast Mr McCrisken also said he did not believe that the 28-year-old had been a member of the IRA.

Mr Watt died in disputed circumstances during public disorder in nationalist Ardoyne in Belfast in February 1971.

Soldiers had claimed that he was shot while throwing a device at military personnel.

However, Mr McCrisken ruled: "I am satisfied, based upon the evidence available to me at inquest, that Barney Watt was not the man described by the soldiers holding the explosive device.

"Based upon the evidence presented at inquest the use of lethal force against Barney Watt by military personnel was not justified."

The original inquest into Mr Watt's death, which took place in July 1971, recorded an open verdict.

His family always disputed the evidence presented at the inquest.

The second inquest was launched following an order from Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC.

Mr Watt's widow Teresa said she was glad to have finally cleared her husband's name.

They were only married six years when he died.

Clutching a photograph of their wedding day, she said: "I feel great. The last 46 years were difficult. I am glad it is all sorted and his name is cleared. I still have his pictures in the house. You never forget."

Family lawyer Padraig O'Muirigh said: "This was a very strong judgment, in stark contrast to the original investigation, which was deeply flawed."

He added: "The Watt family have fought for 46 years. Today we have a proper verdict which says Barney Watt was not a bomber and lethal force was not justified."

In his findings, Mr McCrisken described Mr Watt as a "hard-working man" with an "infectious personality".

He said he was satisfied that Mr Watt had taken part in riots and that he was a "willing participant" in the riot on the night he was killed.

However, he said there was no evidence to support the soldiers' account that he was throwing any sort of explosive device when he was shot.

Earlier, a witness had told the court that he had seen Mr Watt standing with his hands in the air in surrender when he was shot.

Giving evidence via video link, former neighbour John McLaughlin, who was 14 at the time, claimed Mr Watt had been "murdered in cold blood".

"(Barney) put his hands up in a surrender motion and said 'you haven't killed me yet, you bastards'. Then he was shot and he went down.

"I have nightmares about it still."

However, Mr McCrisken discounted the account as "unreliable".

"Although Mr McLaughlin seems to genuinely believe this memory to be accurate, other evidence given at the inquest shows that this memory is not an accurate reflection," he said.

He based his findings on evidence given previously by Northern Ireland's former state pathologist Professor Jack Crane, who told the inquest there was no evidence to support military claims that Mr Watt was throwing an incendiary device when soldiers opened fire.

After examining the evidence and original pathology reports, Prof Crane said: "The soldiers' account is not credible."

On Monday the inquest heard a written account from a soldier known as Sgt C who said: "He had something in his hand and I gained the impression this object was alight.

"My round struck him as he was turning with the throw.

"The man fell to the ground and as he did so the object he had in his hand exploded and blew him into Chatham Street so that only his upper body was visible."

The victim had been on a night out at a local bar before he was killed.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said findings underline the need for the money to be released to the Lord Chief Justice for legacy inquests.

Welcoming the findings the North Belfast MLA said: "Barney Watt’s family have waited for over 45 years for truth and acknowledgement of innocence.

"Hopefully today’s ruling will bring the family closer to finding the answers they are seeking into the killing of their loved one.

"Today’s case also underlines the need for the money that has been set aside as part of the Fresh Start Agreement to be released to the Lord Chief Justice for legacy inquests.

"All families should be entitled to truth, acknowledgement and justice."

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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