The 10 victims of fatal shootings involving the British Army in the Ballymurphy Massacre 50 years ago "were entirely innocent of any wrongdoings on the day in question," Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan has ruled.
There was applause within the courtroom as she made that pronouncement.
Coroner Mrs Siobhan Keegan attributed nine of the ten shootings to the British Army and said the use of lethal force by soldiers was not justified.
Here is a summary of the findings of the Ballymurphy inquest at Belfast's ICC:
Joan Connolly (44), Noel Phillips (19), Daniel Teggart (44), Joseph Murphy (41) - All innocent
Mrs Justice Keegan again found that the killings of Noel Philips, Joseph Murphy, Joan Connolly and Daniel Teggart were not justified.
Ten people killed in West Belfast 50 years ago were “entirely innocent” a coroner has ruled. pic.twitter.com/i6OYHq5Ur9— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) May 11, 2021
“They were all innocent people. This was a tragedy for all the families,” she said.
She said the victims were “innocent” and unarmed.
“The Army had a duty to protect lives and minimise harm, and the use of force was clearly disproportionate,” she said.
In regard to Mr Teggart, she rejected an allegation from one military witness that ammunition was found in his pockets.
She said there was no evidence to suggest any of the deceased were linked to the IRA.
The coroner said there were IRA gunmen in the area at the time.
She said there had been a “basic inhumanity” in how long Mrs Connolly had been left to lie injured on the ground. However, she said she could not determine whether the delay in treatment had contributed to her death.
Mrs Justice Keegan also ruled out a theory that Mr Murphy had been shot again by soldiers when he was taken inside the hall.
The coroner said the four deceased had been killed by British soldiers shooting from the Henry Taggart Hall and she said ballistics evidence disproved that they had been shot by the UVF.
She said she could not determine who fired the shots, other than they were members of the Parachute Regiment stationed at the Henry Taggart Hall.
Family members in court applauded her conclusions.
Edward Doherty (31) -Innocent
The coroner ruled the use of force in shooting Eddie Doherty was disproportionate.
She also rejected claims that Mr Doherty had been throwing petrol bombs at the time.
“He was an innocent man who posed no threat,” she said.
The soldier who fired the shot that killed him was in a tractor that was attempting to clear the barricade.
The coroner said she accepted that at least two petrol bombs had been thrown at the tractor and that the soldier inside would have held an honest belief that his life was in danger, and was justified in using some force as a consequence.
But she said his actions went beyond that.
“On any reading he acted in contravention of the Yellow Card (Army’s rules of engagement),” she said.
The coroner added: “The use of force was disproportionate to the risk posed to him.”
Family members in court again applauded her conclusions.
Frank Quinn (19) and Fr Hugh Mullan (38) - Innocent
The coroner said Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were killed by shots fired by soldiers and that the force used was not justified.
She said she was satisfied both entered the field to assist an injured man.
While the coroner said there was evidence of a small number of IRA gunmen in the wider area on the day, she said this did not apply to the waste ground when the men were shot.
She said neither man was armed and they were not in the vicinity of someone with a gun.
Mrs Justice Keegan said there was evidence that the priest had been waving a white item, either a handkerchief or T-shirt.
She said the use of force used by the Army was disproportionate in the circumstances, further noting the soldiers were firing from protected positions from a long distance away and the fact there were many civilians in the field fleeing from violence that was unfolding elsewhere.
She said the state had failed to demonstrate that its use of force had been justified.
The coroner also rejected a suggestion from the Ministry of Defence that the men may have been shot by a UVF sniper from the nearby Springmartin area.
Mrs Justice Keegan said she had been unable to identify which soldiers fired the fatal shots.
The conclusion of her findings were met with applause by family members in court.
John McKerr (49) - Innocent
The coroner said John McKerr was an entirely innocent man.
However, she said there was not enough evidence for her to determine where the shot that killed him came from, or whether it was fired by the military or paramilitaries.
“It is impossible to say where shot may have come from,” she said.
“The evidence is not consistent and clear in this case.”
The coroner said it was “shocking” there was no adequate investigation of the killing afterwards.
She added: “I have no hesitation in stating that Mr McKerr was an entirely innocent man.”
The coroner said he was “shot indiscriminately on the street”.
She noted that Mr McKerr was a “proud military man” and claims he was associated with the IRA had caused great pain for his family in the five decades since.
“I can allay that rumour and suspicion once and for all,” she said.
John Laverty (20) and Joseph Corr (43) - Innocent
The coroner said the military had failed to establish an adequate justification for the use of lethal force in killing Joseph Corr and John Laverty.
She concluded they were shot by the British Army and there was no evidence that they could have been shot by anyone else.
The coroner rejected claims the men were gunmen who had been firing at soldiers.
“There is no evidence that guns were found on or near any of these two men,” she said.
The coroner added: “It was wrong to describe these two men as gunmen and that rumour should be dispelled.”
The coroner also raised concerns about “serious failings” in military testimony provided in respect of the shootings.
The coroner described the inquests as the longest running to date in Northern Ireland.
While outlining the context in which the deaths happened, in terms of the start of what has become known as the Troubles and the introduction of the policy of internment without trial on August 9, she said she assessed each incident on its own facts.
The standard of proof used was on balance of probability.
She noted that, 50 years on, the deaths remain “stark” for the families.
The daughter of Joseph Corr, who was killed in the Ballymurphy massacre, has said the inquest verdict had gone further than she had hoped.
Eileen McKeown said: “I was expecting them just to say they were innocent. But when she turned around and said that my daddy and John Laverty weren’t gunmen, and never should have been branded gunmen, that was really brilliant to hear that.”
She said the 50-year battle for justice had taken an enormous toll on her family.
“We have fought long and hard for this, for 50 years, to declare my daddy an innocent man.
“My mummy died knowing he was innocent but not getting any justice. I have lost four brothers to this, through the stress and the trauma that they had to live through.
“My brother Joe was with my daddy when he was shot. He lived with survivor’s guilt for years because of the fact that he left his daddy.”
- Ballymurphy Inquest: Who were the 10 people killed?
- 'It is a weight off my shoulders, it's been 50 years of serious hard grief and pain'
Alliance leader and Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long tweeted: “The Ballymurphy families have had battle too hard and too long to finally hear that truth at today’s inquest ruling into their loved ones’ deaths.
“They have carried themselves with courage and fortitude throughout the last 50 years. This is vindication of their fight.”
INNOCENT!— John Finucane MP (@johnfinucane) May 11, 2021
For 50 years they never gave up.
Today the Ballymurphy families heard what they always knew - Their loved ones, murdered by the British state, were entirely innocent.
Today the truth won.#BallymurphyMassacre pic.twitter.com/kITcyNUXYD