Belfast Telegraph

Identity of loyalist sniper allegedly involved in Ballymurphy killings is revealed

UVF gunman is said to have died in 1980

By Alan Erwin

The identity of a loyalist paramilitary sniper allegedly responsible for shooting some of 10 people killed in a west Belfast neighbourhood nearly 50 years ago has been passed to the Coroners Service.

Documents name Thomas Johnston West as being the gunman former Ulster Volunteer Force associates claim opened fire at Ballymurphy in August 1971.

West, from the Shankill area of the city, is understood to have died of natural causes in 1980.

The information handed in today by lawyers acting for an interlocutor also identifies a second UVF member who allegedly acted as a "spotter" for the sniper.

Solicitor John Greer said: "This is significant and sensitive material being given to the coroner in relation to the Ballymurphy shootings."

A fresh inquest into one of the most chaotic and notorious killing sprees of the Troubles is due to begin in September.

Members of the Parachute Regiment have always been held responsible for the civilians' deaths during three days of gunfire involving soldiers.

The shootings occurred amid disturbances sparked by the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland.

Ten people were shot dead, including a priest trying to aid one of the wounded and a mother-of-eight. Another man later died of heart failure.

Bereaved families have come to refer to the killings as the Ballymurphy massacre.

Earlier this week it emerged that UVF "veterans" claim to have identified a sniper within their organisation who carried out a number of the shootings.

He opened fire from a location in the nearby loyalist Springmartin estate as gun battles broke out, they allege.

Those paramilitary veterans approached an interlocutor, who in turn contacted a Belfast law firm.

Information was also provided on the rife allegedly used, along with its subsequent seizure by the authorities.

Mr Greer, of Reavey & Company Solicitors, handed in the dossier in at the Coroners Office in Belfast.

He revealed that his client believes the UVF will provide more details on the shootings.

"In particular, the interlocutor has been informed by the veterans that they are checking and finalising specific details concerning the weapon used by the sniper," he said.

"Based on initial indications given to the interlocutor, they are adamant that the weapon used by the sniper can be ballistically linked to the shootings."

The solicitor would neither confirm nor deny the name provided to his client was that of Tommy West.

But he claimed another media report about the sniper's identity had been confused with separate shootings in the city in May 1972 which became known as the Battle of Springmartin.

Referring to the information provided through the interlocutor, Mr Greer added: "We are in uncharted territory here.

"The strict laws of evidence do not apply and the Coroner has the power to admit material that would not be admissible in other court proceedings.

"It will be a matter for the Coroner in her judgment what weight to attach to the evidence."

A spokesperson for the Office of the Lord Chief Justice confirmed: "Information in relation to the Ballymurphy inquest has been received by the Coroner's Office today."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph