Belfast Telegraph

Families' tributes to men shot dead at Ballymurphy

Anne Ferguson (right) of the McKerr family is consoled by a relative of Joseph Murphy at the Ballymurphy inquest yesterday
Anne Ferguson (right) of the McKerr family is consoled by a relative of Joseph Murphy at the Ballymurphy inquest yesterday
Anne Ferguson with Carmel Quinn of the Laverty family
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The families of two men killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre have paid powerful tributes to them at an inquest.

John Laverty was 20 when he was shot dead on August 11, 1971. His sister Carmel Quinn was eight at the time and told the court of the devastation the loss still caused.

Her other brother Terry Laverty was arrested that day, and she said a soldier had told him: "I have already shot one Irish b****** dead, another won't matter."

John McKerr (49) was shot outside a Catholic church on the same day, and died nine days later.

At the time he had been accused of having a gun in his right hand and being an IRA member.

His eldest daughter Anne Ferguson told the court this was impossible - as he didn't have a right hand, having lost it as a soldier fighting in the British Army in World War Two.

She added he had been proud of his military career and would never have associated with paramilitaries.

Ten people died after three days of shooting in August 1971, including a mother-of-eight and a priest coming to the aid of a wounded man. Another died later of heart failure.

The family members have always blamed the shootings on members of the Parachute Regiment, but there have been claims the UVF also fired shots.

Yesterday Ms Quinn and Ms Ferguson struggled with emotion at times as they read pen portraits of their loved ones out to a packed court attended by around 70 family members.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, who recommended the inquest, also attended.

Ms Quinn told the court her brother was more than just a statistic of the conflict.

Born the fifth child of Tommy and Mary, he was followed by six more siblings.

"Our John was a kind, loving child who grew up to be a six-foot tall, laid back, easy-going lad," Ms Quinn said.

Her earliest memory of her brother was sitting on his shoulders aged four on the way to the Clonard Novena.

Painfully shy, he had at first been reluctant to give a speech at his brother Tommy's wedding.

The last time she heard her brother's booming laugh was at her eighth birthday party.

"My life completely changed forever six days later," she added.

Children were being evacuated from Ballymurphy and John walked his little sister to a local community centre.

"I began to cry because I didn't want to go," she said.

"I remember having a real sense of fear. John told me that it would be all right. I was only going on a holiday and when we come home everything would be OK again.

"We got on the bus and left. Our John stood waving to us until we couldn't see him anymore. Unknown to us, this would be the last time we would see our beautiful brother."

On August 11 he died after being shot in the back.

The family said not knowing the truth of what happened added to their grief.

"We do know our John was not a gunman," she said.

Ms Quinn said her brother Terry was arrested that morning and "tortured" by soldiers.

"One soldier said to him; 'I have already shot one Irish b****** dead, another won't matter'.

"Terry, at this stage, did not know he was talking about our John."

He was later convicted for riotous behaviour, but this was quashed in 2015.

After John's death Ms Quinn said her parents functioned "but their hearts were too sore to find any joy in life again".

She concluded: "We remember him for the loving person he was. A young fella that had so much life in him to live. We truly wish we could hear his loud laugh, see the glint in his big brown eyes, and most of all to hear him sing once more."

Ms Ferguson, the oldest of eight children, was 23 when her father died. She was working in England on the day he was shot, with her two young children staying with her parents.

When Mr McKerr failed to come home on the evening of August 11 the family assumed he had been held up by trouble in the city.

The next morning Ms Ferguson's sister Maureen, known as Mo, learnt her father had been shot as she read a paper at a bus stop.

The family rallied to his bedside in hospital, but he never regained consciousness and died on August 20, 1971.

Ms Ferguson said the family were devastated by the false newspaper reports about having a gun in his right hand and being in the IRA.

She said he couldn't have held a gun with his prosthetic hand and had remained proud of his Army career.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Quinn said she wanted the Prime Minister to know: "This isn't a witch-hunt. No one is above the law."

Ms Ferguson added her family were more interested in getting the truth than punishing those responsible.

At the end of yesterday's proceedings, an application was made for a soldier to remain anonymous and give his evidence behind a screen.

Known only as witness M3, he is understood to have evidence about the death of Edward Doherty (31), who was killed near an anti-internment barricade on August 10, 1971.

The Coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan, said she would decide on the matter soon.

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