Northern Ireland news

Parachute Regiment commander wrote letter praising priest shot dead in Ballymurphy

Ballymurphy families outside court in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

A commander in the Parachute Regiment wrote a letter praising the priest who was shot dead in Ballymurphy in 1971, it has emerged.

The letter from Lieutenant Colonel Peter Chiswell was sent to Bishop William Philbin 10 days after the death of Fr Hugh Mullan.

The priest was shot in Springfield Park in west Belfast on August 9 1971 as he gave the last rites to a man who lay injured by gunfire in open ground.

The 38-year-old cleric died alongside 19-year-old Frank Quinn on wasteland at Finlays Field.

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.

In the letter, which has been read aloud during the Ballymurphy inquest, Lt Col Chiswell expressed "the sympathies of every officer and parachute soldier in the 3rd battalion, the Parachute Regiment".

Lt Col Chiswell, the officer commanding the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, also described Fr Mullan as "a fine Christian man" and as "a priest to whom we could go for help, advice, guidance and encouragement".

In the letter, which was obtained by the BBC, the officer also tells of how they had got to know the priest and "a bond of friendship" between them.

Lt Col Chiswell finished the letter by saying to Bishop Philbin: "I would like you to know that sharing your own sorrow are some 500 soldiers of 3 Para".

The letter had been kept by the family of Fr Mullan for the past 48 years.

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