Belfast Telegraph

Coroner refers Ballymurphy social media comment to Attorney General

Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan issued a stark warning at Laganside Courts in Belfast.

Ten people were shot dead in Belfast in 1971 (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA)
Ten people were shot dead in Belfast in 1971 (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA)

A coroner has referred a social media comment discouraging former soldiers from giving evidence to inquests into the killing of 10 people in west Belfast to the Attorney General.

Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan issued a stark warning during a sitting of the inquests into the killings, which have become known as the Ballymurphy massacre, during a hearing at Laganside Courts in Belfast on Tuesday after it emerged that an individual was discouraging former soldiers from giving evidence.

The inquests are examining the deaths of 10 people killed during shooting incidents involving the Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971.

On Tuesday, Michael Mansfield QC, who represents a number of the victims’ families, warned of a “widespread and deep concern from the families about what appears to be a boycott at what is a critical point of this inquest”.

He said former soldier Alan Barry, who is involved in the campaign group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV), advised soldiers involved not to cooperate with requests to attend the inquests.

I do regard this as a very serious matter - as a result, I have referred those comments to the Attorney General in relation to potential contempt of court. Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan

The comments were reported in a newspaper on Friday and repeated in a different national newspaper on Monday, the first day of the inquest.

Mrs Justice Keegan expressed concern in learning about the media reports, saying: “I would like to remind people that cooperation is key to my role.

“If people refuse to cooperate I have the power to subpoena witnesses or draw adverse inference.

“It is not permissible for people to discourage those who may have relevant information to come forward.”

Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Soldiers frisking passengers and driver of a car on the Springfield Road, near Ballymurphy. (14/01/1971)
Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Soldiers frisking passengers and driver of a car on the Springfield Road, near Ballymurphy. (14/01/1971)
Riots : Belfast. August 1970. Troops shelter behind their riot shields during rioting at Ballymurphy. (04/08/70)
Riots : Belfast. August 1970. The common sight in the Roman Catholic estate at Ballymurphy, Belfast, as young rioters attack the army with missiles during the troubles. (04/08/70)
Riots : Belfast. September 1970. Ballymurphy Disturbance: troops stand by at the junction of Springfield and Whiterock Roads, after a crowd had thrown stones at them and two police cars. (20/09/1970)
Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Catholic housing estate, Ballymurphy. (15/01/1971)
Mourners file past the coffin of Father Hugh Mullan, one of the 10 people killed (PA Archive)
Father Hugh Mullan. Shot at Moyard Park. 9/8/1971 THE FUNERAL HEARSE CARRYING THE BODY OF FATHER HUGH MULLAN TRAVELS ALONG THE ROAD IN BALLYMURPHY ESTATE. 12/8/1971
Joseph Murphy was one of 10 people shot dead by British soldiers in West Belfast in 1971
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 John McKerr who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Fr Hugh Mullan who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Joseph Corr who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Danny Teggart who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 Paddy McCarthy who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 John Laverty who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 25th January 2012 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. Ballymurphy massacre relatives call for a meeting with the Prime Minister, David Cameron. 10 people were shot dead by soldiers in west Belfast in August 1971. The victims, which included a priest and a mother-of-eight, were killed over the course of three days in August 1971 by members of the Parachute Regiment during Operation Demetrius, when people suspected of paramilitary activity were interned. Relatives Rita Bonner, John Teggart and Briege Voyle pictured at the top of the Whiterock Road in west Belfast beside a mural depicting the shootings.

At the start of Thursday’s hearings, Mrs Justice Keegan told the inquest it had been brought to her attention that on Wednesday morning Mr Barry issued a message on social media advising former soldiers that if they are subpoenaed by the Ballymurphy inquest to say they “suffer from a total loss of memory”.

Mrs Justice Keegan told the inquest on Thursday that she has referred the comment to Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin.

“I do regard this as a very serious matter – as a result, I have referred those comments to the Attorney General in relation to potential contempt of court,” she said.

Mrs Justice Keegan also told the inquest that the comments are “in conflict with the MoD”, who she said had been encouraging former soldiers to come forward and providing them with legal assistance to do so.

Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Catholic housing estate, Ballymurphy. (15/01/1971)
Riots : Belfast. January 1971. Catholic housing estate, Ballymurphy. (15/01/1971)

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph