Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy Inquest: A 20-year campaign for recognition and justice

Today a judge will deliver findings in the inquest into the killings of 10 people in Ballymurphy in 1971. Bimpe Archer hears how their relatives only found each other by chance almost three decades later and began to piece together the events of a deadly 36 hours in west Belfast

Janet Donnelly with the paperwork accumulated while investigating her father Joseph Murphy's death. Picture by Hugh Russell

FOR some families it was a flyer they can't even remember picking up, for others a newspaper advert in The Irish News or Andersonstown News or a poster in a shop window.

The year was 1998 and there was to be a conference organised by campaign group Relatives For Justice (RFJ) about forgotten victims at St Mary's teacher training college on Belfast's Falls Road.

"It was during the festival," Janet Donnelly remembers now.

"I had already been torturing my husband for a couple of years to try and get my daddy's [Joseph Murphy] inquest papers for me, then I heard about the event in St Mary's called `The Forgotten Victims'."

Alice Harper also recalls seeing "a poster and things like that about forgotten victims at St Mary's College".

Alice Harper (née Teggart) at her home in west Belfast with a picture of her father Daniel Teggart. Picture by Hugh Russell

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"I wanted to find out the truth about my father [Danny Teggart]."

Both women went hoping for answers, but also wanting to give their testimony about the pain of the brutal loss of a parent 27 years before.

They were not alone.

It was the year of the Good Friday Agreement. The year that was supposed to mark the end of Northern Ireland's Troubles, which would see John Hume and David Trimble collect the Nobel Peace Prize in international recognition of the collective political achievement of the settlement reached after 30 years of death and destruction.

But inside the hall that August night were the descendants of many of west Belfast's dead, and as they told their stories it became clear that the living were as much the `forgotten victims' as those they had lost.

"At the end of the conference a roving mic was passed around and they asked if anyone wanted to say their loved one's name or where they were killed," Mrs Donnelly said.

"The first person up was Liam Quinn, who said about his brother [Francis] being killed on August 9 (1971). The name rang a bell somewhere in my head. My father was Joseph Murphy who was shot on August 9 and died later from his wounds.

"Pat Connolly spoke about Joan Connolly that night and Alice Teggart [Harper] got up as well."

Mrs Harper also experienced a flash of recognition as people began to speak.

Civilians shot dead by the British army in Ballymurphy in 1971 in what came to be known as the Ballymurphy Massacre. Top row, from left, Joseph Corr, Danny Teggart, Eddie Doherty, Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn. Bottom row from left, Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Phillips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy

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"We didn't really know anything, it was only when different people were getting up and I was saying into myself as each person was talking: `But my daddy was shot that night'.

"We had literally heard nothing until that meeting."

She in turn recounted what little her family knew about her father's death to those gathered.

"They were passing the mic round for anyone who wanted to talk and I stood up and said my dad Danny Teggart, aged 44, had 13 children and he was shot 14 times."

Mrs Harper remembers August 9 1971 as if it was yesterday.

"The only reason he was out was because my uncle Gerard lived near the Henry Taggart army post and his windows were all smashed and my father had come to my door to ask could I let him and his wife and kids stay."

She recalled cutting her father's hair - "he had tight curly hair" - and telling him that she was three months pregnant, having lost a baby girl the year before.

"He was delighted, was over the moon."

After leaving his daughter, Daniel Teggart didn't make it out of Ballymurphy to his New Barnsley home. He was shot dead near the army base.

John Teggart whose father was killed in Ballymurphy in 1971. Picture by Mal McCann

Alice Harper and Janet Donnelly remember meeting up with the others as everyone was milling about it the hallway after the meeting at St Mary's.

"One of the organisers said `You have never met?' I said `No, never'," Mrs Donnelly said.

Despite having both lost their fathers to a hail of bullets pumped into a 200x100m field, the women's paths had no reason to cross - Alice was a 23-year-old mother and Janet an eight-year-old schoolgirl.

Like the other families affected by the killings, the Teggarts and Donnellys had retreated into their own silos of grief.

For most of them it also became a struggle for survival - 57 children lost a parent in Ballymurphy over those three days.

Their loved ones lost their lives in the first days of internment, an operation which would ratchet up violence in west Belfast. Dozens of other deaths followed, obscuring the details of the Ballymurphy shootings for a generation.

"I think the reason was we were children ourselves," Janet Donnelly said.

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"I had known about Mr Teggart because I remember Mrs Teggart coming to my house after it happened.

"My mother was left to bring up nine children. She told us what happened because she didn't want us being told in the street by a stranger.

John Teggart and Families of the Ballymurphy Massacre outside the High Court in Belfast yesterday Picture by Hugh Russell.

"I grew up knowing he didn't die from a gunshot, he died from the beating he got. I kept asking questions and my mummy couldn't answer them and she would get upset."

That night, in the packed hallway, children of the Ballymurphy dead started to put the pieces together.

"I said I was trying to get paperwork, Alice was trying to get the solicitor that her mummy used," Mrs Donnelly said.

"We exchanged details and telephone numbers and said if any of us got any information we would contact the others."

Mrs Harper told her younger brother John about the `pattern' of the killings discovered at the meeting.

"In my sister Isobel's class, when she was 14, there was also Rita Laverty, whose brother was shot; Rose Murphy, whose father was murdered the same time as my dad; and Briege Connolly [who lost her mother Joan]," Mr Teggart said.

"They were in the same class and never spoke about it. We were in isolation, you knew your dad was murdered but you thought it only affected yourself.

"It changed characters. Look through the families and people dealt with it differently.

"I was 11 when it happened and being angry that it happened was how I dealt with it. We buried it until many years later when we grew up and that's when we started asking questions.

"The older children were adults and would have known a bit more, but nobody ever put it together it was a massacre."

It was beginning of a more than 20-year campaign for recognition and justice.

A couple of weeks later the families had their first meeting. Some, like Janet Donnelly, began sending away for inquest papers from the Public Records Office (PRONI) and autopsy reports.

"The police never came to anybody's door," Mr Teggart said.

"The army never came to anyone's door to tell them what happened. Some people had to find their family members in the morgue three days later.

"We actually turned into investigators and did what police should have done.

"We would go to the streets, retrace the steps and realise there must have been eye witnesses still living in the same houses.

Waste ground where Danny Teggart, Joan Connolly, Joseph Murohy and Noel Phillips were shot. This picture was taken from the army barracks.

"We started off in Springfield Park, asking `Did you live here in August 1971?' You could tell by their facial expression they knew. A lot of grown men got emotional, broke down and told us `I was never asked that question before' and started telling us what they saw."

The relatives took meticulous notes of everything they were told and for the first time a picture began to emerge of what happened to their loved ones.

Corpus Christi curate Fr Hugh Mullan (38) and Francis Quinn (19) were shot in an area of open ground behind Springfield Park.

The priest had been crossing the waste ground waving a white babygro in an attempt to deliver the Last Rites to an injured man.

The spot where Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot. Fr Mullan's house is to the left of the white fence with the shots thought to have come from the flats behind it

Daniel Teggart (44), Joan Connolly (44), Noel Phillips (19) and Joseph Murphy (41) had been shot near the Henry Taggart Army base.

John Laverty (20) and Joseph Corr (43) were shot at separate points at the top of Whiterock Road and Edward Doherty (31) at the corner of Brittons Parade and Whiterock Road.

Their findings contradicted accounts of the killings given by British army and widely carried in the media at the time.

They began meeting every Monday night to share progress and plot their next steps.

"Members of each family did what they could at that time. We're all working class people. It was a determination to find out exactly what happened.

"A campaign isn't just a few events, its a 24/7 thing. You wake up in the morning thinking about it, you go to bed at night thinking about it. Your thoughts are always there - what can I do next?"

It seemed that the more evidence they uncovered the more questions there were.

Joseph Murphy's inquest papers had finally come through, a thin packet of around 11 pages - despite the fact the last numbered page was 99.

"I went back and said `Where's the rest of this paperwork?'" Janet Donnelly said.

"She said, `That's related to your father, that inquest was an inquest into four deaths.' I went: `What do you mean it's three deaths? Who are the other people?'"

Among the missing documents were statements from 16 different soldiers.

Mrs Donnelly had to track down relatives of those shot alongside her father and get their written permission to access the rest of the file, but even then there were documents missing, including post-mortem photographs and forensics.

In the meantime, the group had tracked down the family of the priest killed during the violence, Fr Mullan, whose file helped unlock more pieces of the puzzle, but even then they did not have the whole picture.

"Then we found another man killed, John McKerr, who I had never heard of, and an 11th man, Pat McCarthy."

Mr McKerr (49), a father-of-eight, was a joiner and former Royal Engineer soldier in the British army from Andersonstown who was working at Corpus Christi Church when he was shot.

Paddy McCarthy, a community worker from England, died from a heart attack after a soldier allegedly put an empty gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger - his death is not included in the latest inquests.

The families were buoyed by the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings and later by the Hillsborough Independent Panel instituted in 2009, but had hopes of their own statutory investigation repeatedly dashed.

Despite bitter disappointment - Mr Teggart cites then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers's 2014 rejection of an independent re-examination of the killings as "the lowest point" - they continued to keep their campaign in the public eye, lobbying Europe and the US for support.

Finally, in 2016, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan recommended an inquest into the killings as one of a series of "legacy inquests".

"We just wanted the truth and wanted people to know the truth. We know our loved ones were innocent and we've lived with that stigma," Alice Harper said.

"We're like a family now, our group."

Week after week, from November 2018 until March 2020, the families arrived together at Laganside court complex in Belfast where they listened to more than 100 days of evidence.

Today they will unite again to hear coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan finally tell the world what happened to their loved ones.

Pacemaker Press 29/10/10 Pictures after the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971, President Gerry Adams revealed that a submission is to be handed to the attorney General John Larkin asking him to establish new inquests into the killings under section 14 of the Coroner's act 1959 Pic Colm Lenaghan.

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