Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Para chief's own solicitors tell Ballymurphy inquest to discount his statement on medical grounds

Families of the people who were killed during a disputed series of shootings in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast in August 1971
Families of the people who were killed during a disputed series of shootings in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast in August 1971
Lt Col Derek Wilford

By Staff Reporter

A former commander of the Parachute Regiment has told an inquest he has "no recollection" of deaths in Ballymurphy in the days immediately after the introduction of internment.

A statement from Lt Col Derek Wilford, who commanded 1 Para when 10 people were shot dead over three days in August 1971, was provided to solicitors acting on behalf of the coroner.

"This comes as a complete surprise to me," he claimed in the document.

Lt Col Wilford recalled how the whole battalion had been interviewed after the events of Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972, but could not remember the same thing happening after Ballymurphy.

"None of that information came my way," his statement added.

"Had it come my way, it would have been quite serious."

Members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside in Derry, resulting in the deaths of 13 people.

In 2010 the Saville Inquiry found the deaths were the result of soldiers losing control, and Prime Minister David Cameron issued a House of Commons apology, describing the massacre as "unjustified and unjustifiable".

However, there is a question mark over the credibility of the evidence from Wilford, who lives abroad and is in poor health.

Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan revealed she had received a letter from solicitors acting on behalf of Col Wilford, which recommends that little weight be given to the statement on account of medical grounds.

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.

The inquest also heard evidence from M2294, a former adjutant of 1 Para, who was on duty when soldiers advanced down the Whiterock Road on the morning of August 11, 1971.

The witness, who was in a mobile unit, said he had not been part of the chain of command.

He said his duties were to monitor the radios, keep a clear idea of the operation and make sure that the commanding officer was properly informed, which meant he did not see any shooting or casualties.

However, he was able to assist the court in understanding some of the military logs kept at the time.

Meanwhile, a soldier known as M171 yesterday failed to appear before the inquest to give evidence about the deaths of Joseph Corr and John Laverty on the Upper Whiterock Road.

A barrister told the court that the military witness had failed to contact the Coroner's Service since the subpoena had been issued.

The inquest was told the soldier had made no contact with the Ministry of Defence either despite fruitless attempts from its staff to make contact with M171.

The coroner asked that the necessary enforcement steps be taken, such as in the case of Soldier M57, who previously failed to appear to give evidence.

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