Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy families ‘distressed' over loved ones' retained human tissue samples

John Teggart (front centre), whose father Danny was shot dead at Ballymurphy in 1971, stands with fellow campaigners outside Laganside courts in Belfast. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Rebecca Black, PA

The families of civilians killed by British soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 have expressed anger and distress that tissue samples from their loved ones were retained without their consent.

Ten people, including a mother of 10 and a priest, were killed in the Ballymurphy area over three days in August 1971.

An inquest earlier this year confirmed all were “entirely innocent”.

It has now emerged that human tissue samples relating to five of those killed were retained following post-mortem exams without the consent and knowledge of their next of kin.

Samples relating to four were retained while an organ relating to a fifth was also retained and later disposed of without the knowledge and consent of the next of kin.

Those affected were Frank Quinn, Joseph Corr, Joan Connolly, John McKerr and Joseph Murphy.

The families are seeking meetings with the Court Service and the State Pathology Department.

Mrs Connolly’s daughter Briege Voyle said three samples from her heart were retained.

“We are gutted, we just can’t believe that to spend over 100 days in court (during the inquest) and 50 years later they just found these parts,” she said.

“This isn’t right, our mummy’s heart, my mummy was shot in the head, there was no reason to take anything of my mummy’s heart.

“We believed my mummy’s heart was with her fully when she was buried, now we are left with three pieces of her heart, it is not right.

“I just feel so betrayed.

“Our hearts were broken then and they are broken now, and we just feel we need answers.”

Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, said they want the tissue samples back to “finally lay our loved ones to rest”.

“This can only happen when we get all the answers and disclosure from both these agencies,” she said.

“The news has been devastating. Not only have I had nightmares, I am living one when this is brought to our attention.

In 2012, then PSNI assistant chief constable George Hamilton issued an apology after it emerged that police retained body parts and tissue samples in 64 cases of suspicious and unexplained deaths.

The cases, including 23 related to the Troubles, were revealed as part of a UK-wide audit of all police forces.

Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh said under current legislation, the Legacy Inquest Unit are required to inform the next of kin so that a decision can be made with regard to their retention or respectful disposal.

He said it is unclear why there was a delay in notifying the next of kin of this development.

“Our clients were not aware of the retention of human tissue samples, and in one case an organ, relating to their loved ones.

“This development has caused them considerable anger and distress.

“It has also raised many concerns and questions which remain unanswered,” he said.

“We have requested a meeting with Court Service NI (CSNI) and the State Pathology Department to discuss the matter further.

“CSNI have confirmed that they will meet with our clients and we await a decision for the State Pathology Department.

“It is imperative that the families are provided with a prompt and adequate explanation to the issues raised by us in the correspondence to CSNI and the State Pathology Department.”

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