Civil Rights

UVF interlocutor fails to appear at Ballymurphy inquest for third time

Ballymurphy families outside court in Belfast Picture Hugh Russell
Rebecca Black

A coroner is set to consider the next steps after a UVF interlocutor failed to appear at the Ballymurphy inquest for the third time.

Witness X is set to give evidence about UVF activity in the Ballymurphy area at the time of a series of disputed shootings which left 10 people, including a Catholic priest and a woman, dead.

The witness had been served with a notice to attend Belfast Coroners Court yesterday but did not appear.

The inquest heard it was the third time the witness had not turned up.

Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan said the witness had requested to be screened from legal representatives while giving evidence, a request which she had refused.

Karen Quinlivan QC, representing a number of the bereaved families, argued that a statement from Witness X should not be considered if the witness could not be questioned on it.

She questioned the reliability of the evidence, saying there is no knowledge of how it was compiled, adding it comes from "a number of different sources" and describing it as "entirely untested and entirely unchallengeable".

However, Kevin Rooney QC representing the Ministry of Defence argued this is a "very relevant witness".

He told the inquest that the statement came about after "UVF veterans were adamant they want the truth to be told".

Mr Rooney said the statement includes information about at least six UVF firing points and weapons used in the format of answers to questions which the Coroners Service asked.

"We would prefer the witness to be examined on that. We can't simply ignore the answers to the questions the witness has given. They are relevant," he said.

Mrs Justice Keegan said she will look into whether Witness X could or should be compelled to attend.

The coroner also said she will look at "what steps I can take in terms of punishing the witness for a breach of court direction".

The shootings in Ballymurphy happened across three days from August 9 to 11 in 1971 amid widespread rioting in response to the introduction of the policy of internment by the then Stormont parliament.

Soldiers have long been held responsible for the killings but the accepted narrative became clouded last year when former members of the UVF came forward to claim their organisation was also involved.

The claim was first made by the UVF in May 2018 that its gunmen had been active in the area at the time of the 10 deaths.

The alleged sniper, who was said to be using a Mauser rifle, is now deceased.

Sean Doran QC for the coroner said that a ballistics report compiled as part of a PSNI investigation into Witness X's initial statement found no forensic link between the Mauser rifle and the ballistics material available from the Ballymurphy deaths.

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