Northern Ireland

GAA club 'in shock' over revelation Paras used man's skull as ashtray

Henry Thornton was shot dead by a British army soldier after the van he was driving backfired
Henry Thornton was shot dead by a British army soldier after the van he was driving backfired

A CO Armagh GAA club has reacted with "revulsion" after it was reported British soldiers used the skull of a local man as an ashtray after he was shot dead in 1971.

During the Ballymurphy inquest last week it was revealed by former Paratrooper Henry Gow that a colleague recovered part of the skull of Henry Thornton and used it as an ashtray.

The 28-year-old from Silverbridge, south Armagh, was killed as he travelled along Belfast's Springfield Road in August 1971.

In the wake of the soldier's revelations at the inquest, which also included allegations a 'sweepstake' was run by his unit to reward soldiers who "got a kill", Mr Thornton's family described it as a source of "deep distress".

"The allegation that the remains of their loved one was treated in such an undignified manner is a source of great distress to them," family lawyer, Pádraig Ó Muirigh said.

"This revelation and others such as a sweeptake being organised for soldiers who ‘got a kill' are deeply disturbing but nonetheless indicative of the culture that prevailed in the Parachute Regiment."

In a online post at the weekend, Silverbridge GAA said the story had sent "shockwaves" through the local community.

"This utterly shocking story has sent shockwaves through our club and the Silverbridge community. We will continue to support the Thornton family who are people of integrity and decency. Words cannot express our revulsion," the club said on Twitter.

Mr Thornton died almost instantly when British soldier Allan McVittie fired twice at the van he was driving close to the former Springfield Road RUC station. McVittie has since died.

A father-of-six from Silverbridge, Mr Thornton had been working in Belfast and was living temporarily in the city when he was killed.

A previous inquest into Mr Thornton's killing heard that he and another man had been driving to work when their van backfired prompting McVittie to open fire.