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Belfast's Falls curfew victims' families demand new inquest

Members of the Burns, O'Neill and Elliman families picture at the unveiling of a plague on the Falls Road to remember their loved ones. Picture by Ann McManus
Connla Young

RELATIVES of men who were killed by the British Army during the Falls Curfew are to appeal to Attorney General John Larkin to order a fresh inquest into their deaths.

Three civilians and a news photographer were shot dead by British troops during the July 1970 curfew in the Falls Road area of west Belfast.

Many view the curfew, which lasted form July 3 – July 5, as a defining moment in relations between the British army and nationalists.

The curfew was put in place when trouble erupted after the British army found weapons belong to the Official IRA during a raid on a house in the area.

In the following hours gun battles raged between troops and members of both the Provisional IRA and the Officials.

Dozens of properties in the area were raided and searched by the British Army during the 36-hour curfew that was eventually broken when women and children from Andersonstown marched on the area with groceries and other supplies.

During the curfew there were reports of British soldiers looting houses and shops and causing damage, including smashing a crucifix and religious statues.

William Burns (54) was shot dead as he stood outside his shop on the Falls Road while talking to a neighbour.

Another man, Charles O’Neill (36), was killed close to his Linden Street home after he was knocked down by an armoured car while trying to persuade soldiers to leave the area.

Patrick Elliman (62) was fatally wounded after being shot in the head by soldiers near his Marchioness Street home.

Photographer Zbigniew Uglik (24), who was a Polish national, was also shot close to Albert Street dead by a British Army sniper.

Relatives of the three Falls Road men killed gathered on Sunday at the spot where Mr Burns was killed for the rededication of a plaque to the victims.

Charlie O’Neill’s niece Mary Holmes, said her family wants the truth to be told.

Her uncle was killed after being struck by a Saracen as he tried to warn soldiers that the area was hostile.

“Justice has not been done,” she said.

“The man was no threat to the British Army or anybody else.”

Ms Holmes, who was 14 when her uncle was killed, said relatives will “get some closure” through any new process.

Solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh represents the families of three of the four people killed.

“We are gathering the evidence and tracing witnesses to the events and we call on people to come forward with a view to an application to the Attorney General in the next couple of months,” he said.

Robert McClenaghan from the Falls Commemoration Committee said the legacy of the curfew continues describing events as a "war vistied on the people of the Falls.".

“This is part of the memory of the Falls,” he said.

“Some people have already called it the rape of the Falls.

“We ended up with four murdered, 337 arrested, 600 gas canisters fired into the area, 1,500 rounds, that they actually admitted, fired by the British Army."

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