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Ballymurphy families consider legal challenge

Published 30/04/2014




THE families of 11 people who died during the Ballymurphy Massacre in west Belfast in 1971 are considering a legal challenge to a government decision to reject an independent re-examination of the killings.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has ruled out their call to establish a review panel to assess the evidence related to the massacre, claiming it would not serve the public interest.

Ten people died after being shot by soldiers.

Among the victims was a Catholic priest and a mother of eight, over three days of gunfire in August 1971.

Another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with the British soldiers.

Families reacted furiously to the decision, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed his disappointment.

Briege Foyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed, ripped up Ms Villiers's letter informing her of the rejection at an emotional press conference in west Belfast.

"We will fight for this until we die and then our young family will come in and they will fight for it, we will get our day," she said.

"Theresa Villiers is just a puppet for David Cameron. But David Cameron, we are coming - we are coming to 10 Downing Street and we are going to let you know that we are not going anywhere."

Lawyers for the families are now considering a potential judicial re-view of Ms Villiers's decision.

As with Bloody Sunday in Derry six months later, members of the Parachute Regiment were involved in the fatal operation in Ballymurphy.

A new inquest into the 10 deaths caused by gunfire was ordered by Attorney General John Larkin QC in 2011.

The families have also campaigned for a review panel to be set up by the government. They wanted the probe modelled on the one that re-examined the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

They suggested the panel could have been chaired by former police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.

The shootings took place as the British army moved into nationalist west Belfast to make arrests in the wake of the introduction of internment without trial.

Soldiers claimed they had come under attack and returned fire. But relatives have demanded an acknowledgement that their loved ones were wrongfully killed.

Ms Villiers said that the decision had been made after careful consideration.

"I have met the families who lost loved ones in Ballymurphy and I was very moved to hear their personal stories of pain and loss, and by their shared sense of determination," she said.

"I have taken time to consider their proposal for an independent review panel, which I received last summer.

"In my view, the balance of public interest does not favour establishing an independent review. I do not believe that such a review would provide answers which are not already in the public domain or covered by existing legal processes."

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was one of those killed, said the British government had treated them in a "disrespectful and shameful manner".

"The families have a message for David Cameron," he said.

"When will you stop harbouring the murderers in the ranks of the British army?

"No-one should be above the law. Are the 11 people who lay in their graves of different worth because they are Irish citizens? We families will not be deterred by this disgraceful decision, in fact we will step up our campaign, shaming your government and your hypocritical policies.

"We will not accept being treated like second-class citizens. Let's be perfectly clear, you haven't seen the last of the Ballymurphy families."

The taoiseach meanwhile, who had backed the families' call for a re-view, said he was "disappointed" by the British government's decision, which he said would come as a blow to the families.

"Notwithstanding this setback, I hope that it will still be possible to find a way for the families to get the truth and to vindicate fully the good names of their loved ones," he said.

Ivan Lewis, shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said the families "had waited too long" to find out what had happened.

"They have a right to the truth and justice which has been denied to them for too long."

Mr Lewis said he would be meeting with the families in the weeks ahead to "consider the best way forward".

Alliance Lagan Valley MLA, Trevor Lunn said he was "shocked" by the decision and the manner in which it was relayed to the families who he said were called together which "raised their hopes and expectations, only to see them dashed".

Mr Lunn, who has been involved in highlighting the Ballymurphy campaign, said it was "incomprehensible to any fair-minded person" that Ms Villiers refused to establish an independent review panel.

➣ Ian Knox ➣ P20