Belfast Telegraph

Former soldier denies stonewalling Ballymurphy inquest to protect pals

Michael Mansfield QC attending court yesterday
Michael Mansfield QC attending court yesterday
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

The first soldier to attend the Ballymurphy inquest from within the Parachute Regiment's support company has denied withholding information to protect colleagues.

Witness M137, who was a sergeant with 2 Para during the introduction of internment on August 9, 1971, was sent to arrest a suspect in the Springfield Park area of west Belfast on the day Frank Quinn and Fr Hugh Mullan were shot dead.

However, he told the coroner he does "not remember anything" about the day in question.

Previous statements, including evidence submitted to HET, were read out in which the witness described "bodies hidden in drains and sewers" being recovered weeks after a gun battle.

However, M137 insisted he never witnessed the scenes himself. "It was just rumours and hearsay," he said.

The witness was also unable to recall the support company firing 70 rounds at what they believed to be 12 IRA snipers.

Soldiers from 3 Queens also opened fire during the incident.

In a heated exchange with a barrister representing the two dead men, M137 denied being influenced by a campaign encouraging soldiers not to cooperate with the inquest.

"I would assume that's just standard practice," he said. "They wouldn't want to talk about their mates if they had done anything."

After admitting that he maintains contact with former comrades on social media, the witness was unable to provide their names. When he was later provided with a laptop to retrieve the information, he said he couldn't remember his login details.

At one point the barrister told the witness "you know far more about this than you're telling this inquest" and noted his "reluctance" to provide information.

M137 vehemently denied being a member of any online veteran groups.

A former captain in the Parachute Regiment known as M194 told the inquest he was involved in an operation to rescue "Catholic and mixed religion" residents caught up in fighting.

M194, who served in A Company 2 Para, said he was sent to Ballymurphy late on the evening of August 9.

He said his unit was subjected to "sporadic" gunfire as it passed waste ground to assist people fleeing their Springfield Park homes, which had come under sustained attack by a mob from the Springmartin Road. However, M194 could not be certain where the gunshots came from.

Michael Mansfield QC was in the courtroom with the relatives of the 10 people killed as it emerged that the most senior Army officer in Northern Ireland wrote to the then Bishop of Down and Connor the day after Fr Mullan was shot.

In it Lt Gen Sir Harry Tuzo offered his sympathy to Fr Mullan's family and said the clergyman, who was known for his "common sense, fairness and courage", had the "highest" standing among the Army.

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