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I saw Ballymurphy soldier with ‘smoking’ gun after John Mckerr was shot dead, inquest told

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John McKerr’s daughters with supporters outside the inquest

John McKerr’s daughters with supporters outside the inquest

Mr McKerr with his wife Maureen

Mr McKerr with his wife Maureen

John McKerr’s daughters with supporters outside the inquest

A woman has recalled how she shouted "you murdering b******" at a soldier upon seeing his "smoking" gun after a joiner was shot dead outside a west Belfast church.

Sheila McAlliskey told the Ballymurphy inquest yesterday that she saw John McKerr (49) standing at the railings outside Corpus Christi Church on August 11, 1971 as Requiem Mass took place.

Moments later she said she heard up to six shots and then saw the ex-serviceman, who lost a hand in the Second World War, lying on the ground.

"Father Harper rushed over to read him the last rites," she said.

"Everybody ran for cover... I tried to get home because I was worried about my wee son."

The then 25-year-old said she believed the bullets were coming from Corry's Timber Yard until she saw a paratrooper crouched down with his head "bowed" in a garden on the corner of West Rock Drive, now Springhill Avenue.

Mrs McAlliskey also claimed he was aiming a rifle which "still had smoke coming out of the muzzle" a couple of minutes after the shots were fired.

"I ran over and shouted: 'You murdering b******'," she said.

She remained adamant about what she had seen when asked by Ministry of Defence barrister Peter Coll QC if she was sure.

He pointed out that the Army had long ceased using (smoking) "pattern muskets" by 1971 and suggested that a ballistics expert may dispute her account.

Ballymurphy shootings 1971 Close

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.  Soldiers shelter behind their riot shields during rioting at Ballymurphy.  (04/08/70)

Riots: Belfast. August 1970. Soldiers 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. 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)

Ballymurphy: troops stand by at the junction of Springfield and Whiterock Roads  (20/09/1970)

Ballymurphy: troops stand by at the junction of Springfield and Whiterock Roads (20/09/1970)

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

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)

Mourners file past the coffin of Father Hugh Mullan, one of the 10 people killed (PA Archive)

PA Archive/PA Images

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

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

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 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 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 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 Danny Teggart 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 Danny Teggart 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 Danny Teggart who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast

Mr Coll also focused on Mrs McAlliskey's claim that she never saw the soldier's face, which directly contradicted an earlier undated account in which she said the "white soldier just looked at me" following the confrontation.

After being challenged the witness said she was "confused" at that time.

When asked how she knew the soldier was white, she replied: "I could see his ears."

The earliest known statement given by Mrs McAlliskey was in 1999 when she was approached by a victims' group to share what she had seen that day.

Mr Coll repeatedly asked the witness why she never told anyone what she saw until almost 30 years had passed.

"From 1971 to 1999, in effect you did nothing," he said.

Mrs McAlliskey responded: "Who would have believed me then?"

She said she "tried to blank out" the "traumatising" incident for which there was never any public appeal for information.

Mrs McAlliskey also recalled seeing paratroopers "grab and push" her grandfather outside her Ballymurphy Road home shortly before the killing.

She said that soldiers were ordering people to go into their homes and were "firing rubber bullets through windows while laughing and shouting".

Mr McKerr's former boss, Patrick Fergal McDonnell, also gave evidence yesterday and explained that Mr McKerr had been fixing small defects on the newly constructed church.

The director of P&F McDonnell Ltd, who was loosely related to the deceased, dismissed rumours that Mr McKerr had been carrying a gun.

"I surmise it was his hammer," he said.

Mr McDonnell described how the "excellent joiner and diligent worker" could attach work tools to his prosthetic arm.

He also recalled how Mr McKerr had ordered building materials the day before he died.

"The next thing I heard was that Mr McKerr had been shot and later died," he added.

"We were shocked."

Mr McKerr's daughter Anne Ferguson travelled from England to hear details about how her father died yesterday.

Another eyewitness is still to be heard.

Belfast Telegraph