Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy inquest: Witness 'saw soldier with smoking gun' as she fled John McKerr shooting scene

John McKerr's daughters Agnes Bond, Anne Ferguson and Maureen McKerr attend the first day of evidence into their father's death

A WITNESS has told the Ballymurphy inquest she shouted "murdering b******" at a British soldier crouched in a garden with "smoke coming out of his gun" as she ran with her young son from the scene of John McKerr's shooting.

The 49-year-old joiner from nearby Andersonstown had been putting the final touches to Corpus Christi Church in west Belfast on August 11 1971 when he was shot.

Members of the father-of-eight's family travelled from England to be at Laganside courthouse yesterday for the first day of evidence into his death.

Coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan is hearing details of the deaths of 10 people killed over three days following the introduction of interment in what has become known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

Mr McKerr's former employer Fergal McDonnell told the court he had been a "quiet, hard-working man" who had been an excellent joiner despite the loss of his right hand during the Second World War.

"When working he would have attached a specialist-made hammer to his arm," he said.

"I surmised the hammer was what they thought was a gun," Mr McDonnell said of military claims Mr McKerr had been brandishing a gun when he was shot.

Sheila McAlliskey told the court she had seen him "standing at the railings" as she attended Mass at the church with her mother and son during a break in what had been a day of shooting.

The coroner heard they were among parishioners urged to leave their homes and come to Mass despite the army having imposed a curfew, "shouting at people to go into their homes" and "firing plastic bullets at the doors".

She said it had been a Requiem Mass "for the O'Hare boy" who had drowned a few days earlier.

Ms McAlliskey said "10 or 15 minutes" later, after "more shooting", Fr Francis Harper had run out shouting that someone had been hit and she turned to see him giving the last rites to Mr McKerr by the railings.

She told the coroner that she fled with her mother and son back to their home on nearby Ballymurphy Road.

"I saw a soldier kneeling at the corner... of Westrock Drive and Ballymurphy Road. (He was) in the back garden of the girl's house."

Ms McAlliskey showed the court how he was pointing his gun, which she said had smoke coming from the "muzzle", and maintained that he refused to look at her as she "called him a murdering b*****".

Ministry of Defence counsel Peter Coll QC told her: "A ballistics expert will say this is not some sort of musket from Napleonic times and the idea of there being smoke from it is not necessarily right."

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