Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy inquest: Fr Hugh Mullan refused help by British army shortly before he was shot dead

Bobby Clarke (right), who was the first person shot in Ballymurphy on August 9 1971, with Patsy Mullan, a brother of Fr Hugh Mullan who was shot dead after coming to the assistance of Mr Clarke. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

WEST Belfast priest Fr Hugh Mullan called the British army to plead for help to protect Catholics in Ballymurphy from attacks from their Protestant neighbours just half an hour before he was shot dead.

The 38-year-old was shot "while performing his spiritual duties as a priest", going to the aid of a parishioner lying injured by gunfire in open ground on August 9 1971.

An inquest in Belfast is examining 10 deaths in the area over three days after the introduction of internment.

British soldiers have long been held responsible for the killings, although last year former UVF members claimed the loyalist group was also involved.

Shortly before his death Fr Mullan had called an army unit positioned at nearby Paisley Park to ask for help as parishioners fled their Springfield Park homes amid violence from the neighbouring loyalist Springmartin estate.

Terence Curran, who lived in a house on the interface with his wife and eight-week-old son, told the inquest how they were driven from their home by a crowd "throwing stones from Springmartin to Springfield Park".

"A brick narrowly avoided hitting my wife (and) I decided to get my wife and infant out as a crowd had gathered," he said.

Mr Curran told coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan that when he returned days later he found "two bullet holes in my bedroom and bathroom".

The family, who were helped to safety by a neighbour, Glentoran striker Gerry McCaffery, sheltered in a friend's home from where someone took him to Fr Mullan's house at around 9pm to see whether he had been able to get help.

"(A man) said the priest was trying to get something organised for us to get some protection," Mr Curran said.

"When he came off the phone he was in a state of shock. He said `We're going to get no help. There's no help. We're on our own'."

Within an hour, the Corpus Christi curate had been shot on nearby waste ground which he had entered waving a white babygro in an attempt to deliver the Last Rites to Bobby Clarke, who would survive his gunshot wound.

Meanwhile, the inquest heard how a man in civilian clothes had been spotted firing a handgun through the window of a flat in Springmartin.

Michael Doherty said "hundreds" of people had gathered on the Springmartin side and were trying to break through railings to reach Catholic homes.

He also claimed a British soldier had boasted that the army had killed his aunt Joan Connolly, branding her a "gunwoman".

Another witness, Thomas McAllister, told the coroner he "could see some army on the roofs of the Springmartin flats" as he made several journeys to help women and children across the waste ground to shelter in his nearby home.

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