Innocent victims of Ballymurphy killings vindicated by coroner’s findings

Joseph Corr, Danny Taggart, Eddie Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn (left to right, bottom row) Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Philips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy were all gunshot victims of the Ballymurphy massacre in west Belfast in 1971 (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA)
Joseph Corr, Danny Taggart, Eddie Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn (left to right, bottom row) Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Philips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy were all gunshot victims of the Ballymurphy massacre in west Belfast in 1971 (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA) (PA Media)
16:10pm, Tue 11 May 2021
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The 10 victims of the Ballymurphy killings were entirely innocent, a coroner has ruled.

The Army has been found to be responsible for nine of the 10 deaths in August 1971, which included a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest.

The coroner said there was not enough evidence to determine where the shot that killed John McKerr came from but said the killings were “disproportionate” despite the chaotic situation in Northern Ireland at the time.

Those killed were:– Father Hugh Mullan

The 38-year-old was a parish priest.

– Francis Quinn

Mr Quinn was a 19-year-old window cleaner and father of two.

The men were shot in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park.

Mrs Justice Keegan said that the two men had entered a field to assist an injured man and added that neither was injured or in the vicinity of anyone with a gun.

She said: “I find on the balance of probabilities that both deceased men were shot by the British Army.”

Relatives of Father Hugh Mullan (Rebecca Black/PA) (PA Archive)

She said that the force used was not justified.

She said the state had failed to demonstrate that its use of force had been justified.

The coroner also rejected a suggestion from the Ministry of Defence that the men may have been shot by a UVF sniper from the nearby Springmartin area.

Mrs Justice Keegan said she had been unable to identify which soldiers fired the fatal shots.

In respect of Fr Mullan the coroner said: “I’m quite convinced that he was carrying and waving a white object when he was shot….there is clearly enough evidence that Fr Mullan was going to the field to help an injured person and that he was shot twice in the back.”

– Daniel Teggart

Mr Teggart, 44, was a labourer and a father of 13.

– Joan Connolly

Mrs Connolly, 44, was a housewife and a mother of eight.

– Noel Phillips

Mr Phillips was a 19-year-old barman.

– Joseph Murphy

Mr Murphy, 41, was a labourer and a father of 12.

They were shot near the Henry Taggart Army base near Springfield Park.

Joan Connolly was a mother-of-eight (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA) (PA Media)

Mrs Justice Keegan again found that these four killings were not justified.

She said the victims were “innocent” and unarmed.

“The Army had a duty to protect lives and minimise harm, and the use of force was clearly disproportionate,” she said.

In regard to Mr Teggart, she rejected an allegation from one military witness that ammunition was found in his pockets.

She said there was no evidence to suggest any of the deceased were linked to the IRA.

The coroner said there were IRA gunmen in the area at the time.

She said there had been a “basic inhumanity” in how long Mrs Connolly had been left to lie injured on the ground.

However, she said she could not determine whether the delay in treatment had contributed to her death.

Mrs Justice Keegan also ruled out a theory that Mr Murphy had been shot again by soldiers when he was taken inside the hall.

The coroner said the four deceased had been killed by British soldiers shooting from the Henry Taggart Hall and she said ballistics evidence disproved that they had been shot by the UVF.

She said she could not determine who fired the shots, other than they were members of the Parachute Regiment stationed at the Henry Taggart Hall.

– Edward Doherty

Mr Doherty was a 31-year-old corporation worker and father of four who was shot at the corner of Brittons Parade and Whiterock Road.

Mrs Justice Keegan said Mr Doherty had been described by his family as a “humble man, a devoted husband and a threat to no-one”.

She said: “He was an innocent man who posed no threat, he was on the street and came across all of this on his way home.”

She added: “His body showed no signs of petrol or explosives, Mr Doherty was not associated with any terrorist group.”

Kathleen McCarry holds an image of her late brother Eddie Doherty (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)

The soldier who fired the shot that killed him was in a tractor that was attempting to clear the barricade.

The coroner said she accepted that at least two petrol bombs had been thrown at the tractor and that the soldier inside would have held an honest belief that his life was in danger, and was justified in using some force as a consequence.

But she said his actions went beyond that.

“On any reading he acted in contravention of the Yellow Card (Army’s rules of engagement),” she said.

The coroner added: “The use of force was disproportionate to the risk posed to him.”

– John Laverty

The 20-year-old Mr Laverty was a council worker.

– Joseph Corr

Mr Corr, 43, was a machinist and father of seven.

The men were shot at separate points at the top of Whiterock Road.

The coroner found that the two men were shot by the British Army and said there was no evidence they could have been shot by anyone else.

She said: “Some questions remain unanswered about who shot Mr Corr and Mr Laverty, the most I can say is that the shots came from one or more soldiers.”

She added: “There is also no evidence of any paramilitary trappings associated with Mr Corr and Mr Laverty.”

Joseph Corr (Ciaran Cahill/PA) (PA Media)

The coroner rejected claims the men were gunmen who had been firing at soldiers.

“There is no evidence that guns were found on or near any of these two men,” she said.

The coroner added: “It was wrong to describe these two men as gunmen and that rumour should be dispelled.”

The coroner also raised concerns about “serious failings” in evidence provided in respect of the shootings.

– John McKerr

The 49-year-old father of eight and carpenter was shot outside the Corpus Christi Parish Church in Ballymurphy.

The coroner said: “Let me say that I have no hesitation in stating that Mr McKerr was an entirely innocent man.

“He was going to and from work when he was indiscriminately shot on the street.

“Also it is quite clear but very important to state that Mr McKerr had no associations with the IRA, I have obtained his death notices which corroborated this.

“I note that he was a proud military man, so to have such aspersions cast on his character must have been particularly painful for his family.

Families celebrate outside the International Convention Centre (ICC) (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“There is no evidence to say that he was armed or behaving in anything other than a normal way.”

The coroner said she was unable to deliver a finding on who had shot Mr McKerr due to weaknesses in the evidence.

She added: “It is shocking that there was no real investigation into the death of this man at the time.

“Not one statement was taken from the military, the scene was sealed, the bullet was not recovered.

“This abject failing by the authorities to properly inquire into the death of a civilian on the streets has hampered me greatly.”

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