Northern Ireland news

British soldiers applications for anonymity at Ballymurphy inquests `straight out of theatre of the absurd'

Michael Mansfield QC and solicitor Padraig O Muirigh representing Ballymurphy families on the way into court. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE threat to the safety of British soldiers appearing at the Ballymurphy inquests has been dismissed as "remote to vanishingly small".

Michael Mansfield QC, representing some of the families, was objecting to applications from former service personnel asking for anonymity and to be screened while giving evidence.

Fellow senior counsel Barry McDonald QC told coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan "some of these applications really are straight out of the theatre of the absurd".

He cited soldier M118 who is asking to be "fully anonymised from the families of the deceased, their legal representatives and others" - despite "not only do we know the name of this witness, but we have provided the court with his name, his address and his telephone number".

"We've had that information for literally years, at least six years and on one occasion spoke by telephone to this witness.

"The court also knows from the role of this witness that the risk to that person must be regarded as either actually non-existent or virtually non-existent. There's no prospect in real terms of this witness coming to any harm."

Mr McDonald said it would be "just ridiculous to grant anonymity".

Mr Mansfield, who represented families at the Bloody Sunday inquiry, pointed out Lord Saville had not deemed it necessary to grant both anonymity and allow screening for military witnesses.

He said there must be a "substantial reason" for such approval, "relating to whether there's a real and immediate threat to the life of the particular witness".

"The threat is assessed as `low' by those who make the assessment," he said.

Mr Mansfield said during the Saville Inquiry the question was posed "is there a single instance in judicial proceedings in Northern Ireland... (of) a witness in those being threatened in the sense that their lives had been put at risk by threat, let alone actually attacked or physically assaulted in any way whatsoever.

"The answer is there aren't any."

He said during the Bloody Sunday hearings there was "no screening for witnesses whatsoever (and) there was some anonymity - not for every soldier",

Mark Robinson, representing the Ministry of Defence, cited the recent car bomb outside Derry courthouse as an indication threats remains which could be addressed by granting anonymity and screening.

Earlier the inquest heard a witness statement from Paul Connolly, who told of the last time he saw his mother Joan "turning down Fegan's Entry" as she went in search of her youngest daughters.

The mother-of-eight was shot in the head as she fled for cover when the army opened fire.

Mr Connolly said he was sent to phone "the bishop" to tell him Fr Hugh Mullan had been killed.

"I was shocked by his response, he said: "Don't you dare call me again, f*** off' and hung up."

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