Belfast Telegraph

Ex-soldier recalls horror of finding Ballymurphy victim

Shot dead: Joan Connolly
Shot dead: Joan Connolly
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A former paratrooper has told an inquest that finding the body of a grandmother shot dead in Ballymurphy in 1971 was one of the "most horrific" sights of his life.

Mother-of-eight Joan Connolly (44) was among four people shot dead on waste ground in west Belfast on August 8, 1971.

The other victims killed close to the Henry Taggart Army base that day were Daniel Teggart (44), Noel Phillips (19) and Joseph Murphy (41).

A private with B Company 2 Para, identified only by the cypher M155, had been serving as a bodyguard at the time for the Company Commander.

When the shooting started he had taken cover behind an armoured vehicle and later volunteered to recover the casualties.

He proceeded on to the waste ground with the cover of the armoured vehicle, accompanied by the driver and an officer.

The BBC reports M155 found Ms Connolly lying face-down with a large hole in her thigh, and that he was shocked to discover her face had been shot off.

He said it was "one of the most horrific things I have ever seen".

M155 said he chose to leave Ms Connolly at the scene as she was already dead, instead helping to bring five seriously wounded male casualties back to the Henry Taggart Hall.

He said witnessing the mutilated remains of Ms Connolly "immediately put us into a humanitarian mode".

During the recovery, he said there was sporadic gunfire surrounding the Army vehicle but he did not fire his weapon that day. He confirmed that none of the casualties had been found holding a weapon.

He also claimed he did not see any of his colleagues abuse the casualties inside the Army base and that other soldiers were later ordered to recover Ms Connolly's body.

A number of witnesses have claimed that the soldiers sent to recover the casualties from the waste ground shot at them as they were still on the ground.

M155 said he did not see this and denied any suggestion he was covering for his friends.

"I'm not covering for anyone," he told a barrister for three of the victims.

"I genuinely don't remember many things that happened in those days, and that is the truth."

He went on to claim he could not identify any soldier who fired on the waste ground.

This was because he was taking cover behind the armoured vehicle which meant it obscured his view of soldiers firing from the sangars (fortified positions) at the base.

Asking if there was a fear that soldiers had killed the wrong people, the barrister said: "No one said, 'Oh dear, we've shot the wrong people?'"

M155 denied this.

On Monday, another former paratrooper attending the inquest also denied any suggestion that he was withholding information to protect his colleagues.

Identified as M137, the former sergeant with 2 Para was sent to arrest a suspect in the Springfield Park area of west Belfast on August 9, 1971, when Frank Quinn and Fr Hugh McMullan were shot dead. He told the coroner he had no memory of the Parachute Regiment's Support Company firing 70 rounds at what they believed to be 12 IRA snipers.

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