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Ballymurphy Massacre inquest must uncover the truth

After almost 47 years, the emergence of a claim that a UVF sniper shot some of the ten people killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre has come as a surprise and has raised a number of questions.

Up until now, the focus of the campaign for the truth behind these deaths has been on British soldiers who have been blamed for the killings over a three day period in August 1971.

The shootings took place as the army moved into Republican areas in west Belfast to arrest IRA suspects following the introduction of internment.

Among the dead was a Catholic priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, and a mother-of-eight, Joan Connolly.

Families have battled for decades to uncover the full story of what happened during that violent period, their search for information hampered by a lack of cooperation from the Ministry of Defence.

A full inquest is due to start in September with a preliminary hearing later this month. As part of that process, the coroner has asked for any relevant information to be brought forward.

Fresh allegations this week that a UVF gunman located in the Springmartin estate opened fire into Ballymurphy in August 1971 have come as an unexpected development.

It is understood that loyalist paramilitaries from the time have provided details to an interlocuter, including the gunman's name and information on the rifle said to have been used which we are told was subsequently seized by the authorities.

Bereaved families have expressed scepticism about the claims and given the obstacles they have faced over the years, this is perfectly understandable.

They are also entitled to ask questions about the timing of the revelations and the possible motivation of those behind this move.

Clearly, any new evidence needs be rigorously tested to establish its veracity.

Ultimately, the aim of the inquest is to determine the full circumstances of these deaths which means that any relevant information, particularly in relation to armed groups in the vicinity at the time, needs to be made available to the coroner and legal representatives.

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