Belfast Telegraph

We don’t do conspiracies, insists former Army chief

General Sir Mike Jackson made the comments while giving evidence at an inquest into a disputed shooting incident in Belfast in 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)
General Sir Mike Jackson (John Stillwell/PA)

The British Army “don’t do conspiracies”, a former chief of staff has told an inquest.

General Sir Mike Jackson, 75, was giving evidence to a fresh inquest into a disputed shooting incident in Belfast in 1971.

Ten civilians, including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest, were killed across three days from August 9 to 11 of that year.

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The Ballymurphy massacre victims

The shootings at Ballymurphy came following the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Sir Mike was a captain in the Parachute Regiment on deployment in Belfast at the time.

He described his role then as community relations and press liaison.

Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the family of victim Joseph Corr, asked Sir Mike why soldiers involved in the shootings were not interviewed by the Royal Military Police at the time.

He put it to Sir Mike that there had been an attempt to “cover up” the shooting of Mr Corr and John Laverty on August 11.

Sir Mike responded: “It is a preposterous accusation to make which would require a huge number of people to be part of. It simply does not add up.

“It may be there was a breakdown in procedure, it may be that the whole system was overwhelmed by the mayhem of that week, I don’t know.

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. Troops 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. September 1970. Ballymurphy Disturbance: troops stand by at the junction of Springfield and Whiterock Roads, after a crowd had thrown stones at them and two police cars. (20/09/1970)
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)
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
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 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 Paddy McCarthy who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
Pacemaker Press 17/6/10 John Laverty who is one of the 11 people died in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971 in West Belfast
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 25th January 2012 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. Ballymurphy massacre relatives call for a meeting with the Prime Minister, David Cameron. 10 people were shot dead by soldiers in west Belfast in August 1971. The victims, which included a priest and a mother-of-eight, were killed over the course of three days in August 1971 by members of the Parachute Regiment during Operation Demetrius, when people suspected of paramilitary activity were interned. Relatives Rita Bonner, John Teggart and Briege Voyle pictured at the top of the Whiterock Road in west Belfast beside a mural depicting the shootings.

“But I do know we (British Army) don’t do conspiracies.”

Sir Mike appeared at a fresh inquest into the deaths of Mr Corr and Mr Laverty on Thursday.

He said he was part of an Army movement down Whiterock Road towards Springfield Road in the early hours of August 11, aimed at dismantling barricades.

He recalled a gun battle between the Army and the IRA which he said lasted two to three hours and involved 20 gunmen.

While he did not see the battle, he said he heard the shots, including the “distinctive thumping noise of a Thompson submachine gun” – a weapon then associated with the IRA.

Sir Mike described that type of gun as the weapon of the enemy.

General Sir Mike Jackson (John Stillwell/PA)
General Sir Mike Jackson (John Stillwell/PA)

“I have absolutely no doubt that the IRA were firing on soldiers and soldiers were firing on the IRA,” he said.

Claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed during the inquest hearings.

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Family members outside the court in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

A newspaper article published later on August 11 described Mr Laverty and Mr Corr as gunmen.

Their families have insisted they were not gunmen. The inquest heard that guns were not found when their bodies were recovered.

Sir Mike told the inquest he accepts it was likely he was a captain quoted by the newspaper, although he did not recall giving the interview.

Pressed on why the pair had been described as gunmen, Sir Mike said he would have been fed information from soldiers on the ground, by radio or face to face.

“In retrospect, of course I should have said ‘alleged’,” Sir Mike told the inquest.

He added: “Let me say to the families who so long ago lost their loved ones: for me it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy which is hugely regrettable, but I would also say that anybody who loses their lives as a result of violent conflict is also a tragedy.

“I too have lost friends, so be it. My sympathies to you and I’m sorry that it is only now after so long that you feel you can come to terms.”

Sir Mike also described how he had found serving in Belfast in the early 1970s.

“You had a very volatile, very violent at times in places situation, whereby for a soldier or a policeman to come under gunfire or to be bombed was a matter of when not if,” he said.

“The picture I try to paint, particularly during internment week, is particularly vivid in internment week because of the reaction, very understandable reaction of the nationalist population to the introduction of internment.

“All I am trying to do here is to say things were very not one-sided in this way.”

Representatives from families of several of those killed by the Parachute Regiment were in the public gallery for the hearing on Thursday.

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