Northern Ireland news

Former head of British army tells Ballymurphy paratroopers to come forward to inquest

Families and freinds of those murdered during the Ballymurphy massacre arrive at The Laganside courts in belfast to hear Col Mike Jackson give evidence. Pictured are Carmel Quinn, Rita Bonner and Eileen Mckeown. Picture Mark Marlow.

THE former head of the British army has told former paratroopers they have a duty to come forward and give evidence at the inquests into the 1971 killing of 10 people in west Belfast.

Veterans associations have been criticised for advising former soldiers deployed in Ballymurphy during the three days from August 9 to 11 not to appear before the court.

Ten civilians, including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest, were shot dead following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.

During yesterday's hearing, General Sir Mike Jackson agreed that "any paratrooper still living who was a witness or a shooter should come forward".

"Anybody should follow the rule of law, that's bedrock to the British army's values and standards and therefore co-operation with due process of law... (is) part of all that."

Under questioning from Michael Mansfield QC, representing the family of Joseph Corr (43), Sir Mike insisted the British Army "don't do conspiracies".

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 

Sir Mike had been a captain in 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment who deployed in Belfast and "a large rural hinterland" at the time and acted as "community relations and press liaison".

Mr Mansfield asked why soldiers involved in the shootings were not interviewed by the Royal Military Police after the shooting, despite it being policy that they should be.

He suggested there had been an attempt to "cover up" the shooting of Mr Corr and John Laverty (20) on August 11.

"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 don't do conspiracies."

Sir Mike described how he was part of an army operation down Whiterock Road towards Springfield Road to dismantle barricades in the early hours of August 11.

He recalled "distinctly hearing the sound of a Thompson machine gun (which had) a very distinctive thud-like sound which was unlike any weapon deployed by the army. It was an enemy weapon."

He said the barricade across Whiterock road "had been booby trapped (and there was) a three-hour battle with the IRA".

"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, a fact disputed by their families and the inquest heard no guns were found when their bodies were recovered.

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."

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