Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy inquest: British army 'doesn't do conspiracies' says former chief

Family members hold images of some of those who died in disputed circumstance in Ballymurphy in 1971, outside Laganside Courts in Belfast as the inquest into their deaths continues. General Sir Michael Jackson (right) gave evidence today 
Rebecca Black, Press Association

 

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 nto the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy in west 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.

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

Mr Jackson 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.

Read More: Soldier claimed his name was fabricated on Ballymurphy arrest forms

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

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

Mr Jackson 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.

"But I do know we (British army) don't do conspiracies."

Read More: Brothers tell Ballymurphy inquest of ordeal as teens at hands of RUC and soldiers

Mr Jackson appeared today at the inquest into the deaths of Mr Corr and Mr Laverty.

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.

Mr Jackson described that type of gun as the weapon of the enemy.

"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.

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.

Mr Jackson 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, Mr Jackson 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'," Mr Jackson 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."

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

 

 

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