Northern Ireland

Coroner orders proof that 'drinking during medical' ex-soldier unfit to appear Ballymurphy inquest

Families of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims outside the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Families of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims outside the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday. Picture by Hugh Russell

A coroner has called for medical proof that an ex-British soldier is unfit to provide evidence to the Ballymurphy inquests.

Mrs Justice Keegan has dismissed as inadequate an initial medical examination undertaken on the former soldier because he was drinking alcohol when it was being performed.

Relatives of those killed in the shootings in west Belfast in 1971 have pressed for the man, known as M1341, to answer questions on his potential involvement in the incidents.

He is one of 10 potential witnesses who lawyers for the next of kin are urging the coroner to obtain evidence from before she begins deliberating on her findings next month.

The vast majority of the evidence related to the deaths of the 10 people killed in shootings involving the British army has been heard in proceedings that have been running for 13 months.

On Wednesday, the coroner's court in Belfast heard that the ex-soldier's solicitors had been unable to engage with him directly in recent weeks, and were instead liaising with family members.

Mark Mulholland QC, representing the man, said his relatives were extremely concerned about the impact having to participate in the inquest could have on his mental health.

"M1341 is a suicidal alcoholic," he told the court.

"He is in a very vulnerable position."

The coroner insisted she did not want to "harass" the veteran or his family but made clear she required medical evidence to corroborate the relatives' concerns.

Mrs Justice Keegan said an initial medical report was not appropriate, as the man was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

"You can't come to court and ask me to accept a medical assessment where a person was drinking out of a can," she said.

"I want a proper medical assessment."

The coroner highlighted that she had been seeking additional medical evidence for two months, without success.

"Somebody should be able to vouch for all this," she said.

"This person must have a GP."

Mrs Justice Keegan suggested the failure to provide such a report would raise suspicions among the Ballymurphy families.

"You are creating question marks by virtue of the process being convoluted," she told his legal team.

Karen Quinlivan, QC, representing the Ballymurphy relatives, said there was no evidence before the court to support the contention that the witness was medically unfit to participate.

The coroner set a deadline of Friday December 20 for the ex-British soldier's lawyers to provide another medical report.

A priest and a mother of eight were among those killed in disputed circumstances over the course of three days between August 9 and August 11 1971.

The dead were Father Hugh Mullan, 38, Francis Quinn, 19, Daniel Teggart, 44, Joan Connolly, 44, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, John Laverty, 20, Joseph Corr, 43, Edward Doherty, 31, and John McKerr, 49.

The shootings came after the introduction of the controversial policy of internment without trial by the then Stormont administration sparked rioting across Northern Ireland.