Northern Ireland

Former soldier branded "a liar" in Troubles inquest

 Henry Thornton, who was shot and killed by a British soldier in August 1971
 Henry Thornton, who was shot and killed by a British soldier in August 1971

A FORMER British soldier giving evidence at an inquest into the shooting of a father-of-six more than 40 years ago was branded a "liar" and told his version of events was "total and utter fiction".

The witness, identified only as Soldier C, took to the stand for a second day on Wednesday behind closed curtains in a Belfast court to ensure his anonymity.

A former member of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, he witnessed a member of his unit shoot Henry Thornton, from Crossmaglen in south Armagh, on the morning of August 7 1971.

The 29-year-old, who stayed in Belfast during the week as a construction worker, was driving a van along the Springfield Road at around 7.30am when he was shot in the head by a paratrooper identified only as Soldier A, who was stationed at Springfield Road Police Station.

In 2012, the British government wrote a letter of apology to Mr Thornton's widow, Mary, confirming that the unarmed civilian had been an "innocent man".

Soldier C has given evidence that the victim's van was being driven slowly before gathering speed and at one point headed towards the sangar where he was on guard duty.

He recalled seeing what he believed to be a weapon in the van, and then two "loud" bangs which he maintained were gunshots.

He said Soldier A, who is now deceased, then chased the vehicle before firing two shots.

Neil Fox, a barrister for the Thornton family, told the former soldier yesterday that he had "invented" his version of events "because you realised fairly quickly after the incident you got this all wrong".

He claimed Soldier C was the "only person" to have such an account.

Mr Fox made references to his personnel record, which revealed he had been caught sleeping while on sentry duty at the station one week before the shooting.

He had also admitted being "inattentive" while on ambush patrol and made a false statement about a road traffic incident.

When asked if it was possible he had been asleep on the morning of the shooting and was woken by the van backfiring, Soldier C said he had not been asleep and added: "It wasn't a backfiring, sir. There's a clear distinction between backfiring and a gunshot."

Mr Fox said: "I'm suggesting you're a liar. You are someone who makes things up and you have an aversion to the truth."

Soldier C rejected the claim.

The lawyer also read out comments made by some of his commanding officers over the years.

In one, Soldier C was described as "an enigma" who had a "reputation for doing the most irresponsible and idiotic things", while another said he had "something in his make-up" which seemed to "dull his sense of responsibility" and gave him a "compulsion to manipulate the truth".

The soldier, who was awarded the British Empire Medal, said if he was "that bad a soldier" he would not still have been in the army 26 years later and been promoted.

The inquest is due to continue on Thursday.