Belfast Telegraph

Man who witnessed Ballymurphy killing felt duty bound to testify, inquest told

By Brett Campbell

A West Belfast man who witnessed a person being shot dead from his pregnant mother's bedroom in 1971 said he has a moral duty to tell the Ballymurphy inquest what he saw as a nine year-old boy.

Martin McLaughlin, who flew from England to give evidence yesterday, responded to an appeal for witnesses made in the summer of 2016.

"I remember clearly what had happened. I felt duty bound from a moral point of view," he told the inquest.

Mr McLaughlin, who lived at number 51 Whiterock Road close to where a barricade had been erected the day before Edward Doherty (31) died, described how a large tree had been cut down from the nearby cemetery to keep the Army out.

Now aged in his late 50s, the coroner heard that Mr Doherty's childhood memories are "steeped" in the "terrible sights" he witnessed on a sunny August day almost five decades ago.

"I saw Mr Whelan standing by the gate, he was a friend of my father," he said.

"He stood looking down the Whiterock Road towards the barricade. Another man seemed to be in conversation as he approached him - he stood facing the other way."

Mr McLaughlin, who also described seeing a group of youths throwing stones and petrol bombs around 30 metres from the barricade erected to keep soldiers out, said his mother later told him the other man was Edward Doherty.

The witness recalled seeing him "jerk" before he "fell to the ground" as he glanced over his left shoulder. He said "a loud piercing crack" rang out almost simultaneously.

"I wanted him to get up. I didn't want to see it but I couldn't unsee it," he added.

The witness told the inquest it was followed by up to four similar sounds he recognised as gunfire, which had been heard "regularly" in the preceding days.

Mr McLaughlin said it was distinguishable from the "dull thud" of rubber bullets which had also been discharged.

"From underneath him a large pool of blood appeared... and my mother said, 'Oh my God'," he recalled.

He then described seeing four men "scoop him up" before carrying him away as chaos unfolded in the street below.

"People were diving into hedges and jumping over the cemetery wall," he said.

Mr McLaughlin said he and his sister sat silently in a back bedroom before they prayed for the victim while his mother washed up the puddle of blood outside with brushes and mops.

"It was very difficult. I watched her start to cry as she cleaned," he said

"She cried for many days after that."

Mr McLaughlin, whose 84-year-old mother now suffers from dementia and whose older sister has since passed away, said the incident has caused him to feel an increasing sense of guilt as he gets older.

"I can say without a doubt that Mr Doherty was not involved in any violence or trouble," he said in his initial statement. "I will go to my grave with the belief that Eddie Doherty was an innocent man who was shot for no reason."

However, Ministry of Defence barrister Kevin Rooney QC sought to cast doubt on the memories of a child, which he said may have become "vague" and "confused" after 47 years.

Mr Rooney also referred to other witness statements which directly contradicted Mr McLaughlin's version of what happened that day - including evidence given in August 2009 by the now deceased Billy Whelan.

In it, Mr Whelan stated that he met Edward Doherty and two other people shortly before his death.

"Four of us stood on the pavement 30 yards from the barricade watching what was going on," he previously claimed.

The inquest was told that Mr Whelan recalled "a few hundred people" accounting for "80% of residents" who had gathered in the "very hostile" street where the men chatted for around an hour.

Mr Rooney also referred to another witness who placed Mr Doherty much closer to the barricade and claimed to have been the only person to pick the body off the ground following the shooting.

He then told the Mr McLaughlin "you can't reconcile his version with what you are saying".

But Mr McLaughlin stood firmly by his own account.

"It's not something you forget easily - there some things that you will never forget," he said.

Mr Rooney then questioned how Mr McLaughlin could know that the man outside is house was Mr Doherty without "personal knowledge".

But the witness, who accepted he relied on information from his mother, recalled people "leaving flowers and lighting candles" outside his house and said the reason was "obvious".

"That's the spot where he was killed," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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