Belfast Telegraph

Soldiers opened fire on Christmas dance, sister of victim Joseph Parker tells inquest

By Angela Rainey

An inquest has opened into the killing of a north Belfast father-of-two by soldiers as he attended a disco in 1971.

Joseph Patrick Parker, known as Joe-Joe, then aged 25, had been at a Christmas dance at Toby's Hall in Butler Street in Ardoyne when he sustained fatal gun shot wounds to both legs.

He had been with his uncle Francis Cosgrove, now 74, and his sister Teresa Watt, now 71, to cheer her up following the fatal shooting of her husband Barney by soldiers only months before.

His wife Dorothy, who was heavily pregnant with his second daughter, had stayed at home.

Sitting at Laganside Court, Coroner Joe McCrisken heard evidence from five witnesses who were among more than 100 people at the dance 46 years ago this December. The inquest heard soldiers entered the hall at around 10pm "looking for someone who had shot at them that afternoon in Ardoyne".

Mrs Watt, who appeared frail, struggled to speak as she answered questions by counsel for the Ministry of Defence Peter Coll QC. He queried her three statements made on December 24, 1971, June 2007 and May 2017.

He also quizzed how she could recall the identity of the soldier firing the gun in her second statement, but not 45 years ago.

Mrs Watt said she did not "give any statements to the police or the Army" and that the only time she discussed it was when "people from the district knocked the door asking questions".

Her initial statement, read by counsel for the coroner Ronan Daly, said: "I was dancing with my brother when approximately five soldiers came in. The soldier was talking to the priest who I heard saying that it was 'only a social occasion', then the music stopped. He pushed the priest.

"I heard tables being pushed over and bottles smashing and then there were shots - that's when me and my brother threw ourselves onto the floor.

"The shooting seemed to go on for a long time. I thought they were rubber bullets and I could not see what was going on further up the hall.

"There was a soldier on one knee and he was firing from a gun at his hip. He was very young looking, blond and good looking. I remember his face.

"When the shooting stopped people were getting up and I looked to my left at Joe-Joe. He was slumped with his head almost touching his knees and I knew when he hadn't got up there was something wrong."

Mr Parker was taken to the Mater Hospital where his condition deteriorated and he died.

Mr Cosgrove said he had been raised with his nephew "like brothers" and the pair would often play snooker together.

He heard "three episodes" of gunshots of up to eight shots each and tried to leave but was told "get back inside you Fenian b******" by soldiers outside. The inquest also heard how shots were fired at the building through the windows and wooden walls and doors.

Mr Cosgrove said he had "never talked publicly" about that night and did not recall offering statements to the police or Army.

He said: "I had to walk towards the door to get to my seat when I saw the soldiers push the priest before they walked into the middle of the crowd and seemed to panic and open fire.

"I did not see any soldiers who were injured."

The hearing continues.

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