Belfast Telegraph

Musician 'can't forget noise' as Army killed man at disco, inquest hears

By Eamon Sweeney

A guitarist who saw a man shot dead by the Army at a dance has told an inquest he will "never forget" the noise he heard that night.

John Craig was a 17-year-old member of the band playing at Toby's Hall in Ardoyne, north Belfast, when Joseph Parker (25) was killed in December 1971.

Mr Parker suffered fatal wounds from rounds fired by a member of the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

It emerged that Mr Craig only learned of the inquest last week and came forward to the Coroners Service with a statement.

He said he had suppressed memory of the event because it traumatised him.

Speaking to Ronan Daly, counsel for coroner Joe McCrisken, Mr Craig recalled that his band The Circle were booked to play the venue that night.

"It was my first time there, and I have never been back," he told the inquest.

Mr Craig said the band had taken a break from playing and were sitting on stage when he noticed soldiers entering the hall. He said the compere for the night urged them to start playing again because he sensed the military presence might spark trouble.

"It was an attempt to diffuse the situation," he said. "We began to play Get it On by T. Rex because it was very popular at the time. It had the desired effect, because people began to dance.

"It was frightening for both sides. The soldiers were just looking at people - intimidating people."

Earlier a deposition from the officer in command of the patrol, Captain Barton, now deceased, was read out. His submission said that he, a sergeant, two lance corporals and a private had entered Toby's Hall in the belief that a wanted republican may have been present.

The officer's statement and more from other soldiers present concurred that they discharged rounds after the crowd became violent towards them. They said it was necessary to secure their safety and prevent their weapons from being taken from them.

Mr Craig said that there was little room for the soldiers to manoeuvre between tables where there were people sitting and others who were dancing, so they jostled through the crowd, making their way towards the top of the hall.

He added: "I could see their rifles, so they were in an upright position, not in a firing position.

"People were angry and some were shouting 'out, out'. Others were saying 'get the f*** out of here'. I have an absolute vivid memory because I never saw this before, or since, about how a riot starts."

Mr Craig said a young girl threw what he thought was a crumpled crisp bag at a soldier and a shot was then fired into the air.

"It was then that I saw who I think was the victim make his way towards a soldier with his fists clenched," he added.

"It was at that point, without a shadow of a doubt, that a soldier from a distance of 6ft to 8ft away from him aimed his rifle at his groin and fired directly into him.

"Then bullets went off all over the place. I'll never forget the noise until the day I die. It was horrendous."

Peter Coll QC, counsel for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), challenged Mr Craig's powers of recall after almost 46 years since the shooting.

"You are coming at this cold. You have given no other account before this one," he said.

Mr Craig replied: "Since last Friday I have been back in Toby's Hall remembering the sequence of events. It's like running a video again, again and again."

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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