INNOCENT - Ballymurphy victims were ‘entirely innocent of wrongdoing’ rules Coroner
Those killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were all “entirely innocent of wrongdoing on the day in question” the Coroner presiding over their inquests ruled today.
The Honourable Mrs Justice Keegan presided as Coroner over the inquests into the deaths of Joseph Corr, Danny Taggart, Eddie Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn, Paddy McCarthy, Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Philips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy, who were killed between August 9 and 11, 1971 in West Belfast.
The Inquests conducted back in 1972 recorded open verdicts and fresh inquests into the deaths were directed in 2011 by the Attorney General under section 14(1) of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959.
The inquests opened on 12 November 2018 and have now concluded. The Coroner found that nine of the ten aforementioned were killed by the army and that she could not definitively say who shot Mr McKerr.
Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that the use of force by soldiers had been “disproportionate” in the nine deaths the Army was found to have been responsible for.
She ruled out any paramilitary involvement by any of those killed, and described them as “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.
SDLP Leader, Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the Inquest findings have vindicated the decades long campaign for truth by the families of the victims.
The Foyle MP said that the families have demonstrated an unshakable dignity throughout their long journey toward truth.
“The findings of the Ballymurphy Inquest today are an absolute vindication of the long campaign for truth that these families have waged over fifty years. They have stood against attempts to blacken the names of their loved ones, attempts to deny the truth and rewrite the past. Today they can stand proudly in the knowledge that their friends and family were entirely innocent of wrongdoing and the whole world knows it,” he said.
“I want to thank Mrs Justice Keegan for her forensic explanation of the inquest findings and the work she has done over the course of months of harrowing testimony.
“Listening to the events that led to the murder of innocent people in Ballymurphy fifty years ago was heartbreaking.
“Today the Ballymurphy families can stand proudly in the knowledge that their friends and family were entirely innocent of wrongdoing and the whole world knows it. But it should shame the British establishment that they forced innocent people to fight for so long and made that journey so difficult.
Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill said today was “a day for truth and for the Ballymurphy families”.
Michelle O’Neill said: “My first thoughts today are with the families of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre. All were innocent and today their families have been vindicated.
“For five decades they have campaigned with dignity and determination for the truth about what happened to their loved ones and despite all the setbacks they have kept going with such resilience and resolve.
“Today is their day; it is a day for truth.
“What happened in Ballymurphy was state murder. Now the truth has been laid bare for all to see.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Louise Haigh MP, said: “On what must be an impossibly difficult day, my thoughts are with the families of those killed in Ballymurphy who have finally heard the truth about what happened to their loved ones.
“The conclusions of Justice Keegan are clear and irrefutable. Those who lost their lives were innocent and posing no threat. Their deaths were without justification. The fundamental right to life violated.
“That families have had to fight for so long for the truth is a profound failure of justice. One which must be learnt from. For these families, the standard to which we hold ourselves as a nation of laws has fallen far short.
“Many more families affected by the conflict are, too, still fighting for answers.
“The case for a comprehensive legacy process, with families able to discover the truth about what happened to their loved ones and where possible, justice, is strong and compelling. Ministers promised victims such a process, they owe it to families to deliver on their commitments.”
Responding to the delivery of the findings of the Coroner in the Ballymurphy inquest today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD said: “While we will need to examine the full detail of the Coroner’s statement, the principal findings have cast a tremendous new light on one of the darkest pages of the history of the conflict, and will come as an immense relief and vindication for the families who have maintained for decades that their loved ones were innocent and their killings unjustified.
“Today’s historic developments wouldn’t have been possible without the determined campaign by the families of those killed in Ballymurphy for the truth of what took place in those terrible days in August 1971. I have met with the families during the course of their campaign and I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to that extraordinary achievement. All of them are in our thoughts today.
“Every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator. All victims’ families deserve support in securing all the information possible about what happened to their loved ones.
“Only through a collective approach can we hope to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that responds to the needs of victims and survivors, and society as a whole.”