Today had been listed for many months as the opening of the new inquest into the Ballymurphy Massacre, when 11 people were killed by members of the British Parachute Regiment between 9th and 11th August, 1971.
Mrs Justice Keegan is presiding over the inquest and shows great concern to keep momentum moving despite the prevarication over disclosure by the Ministry of Defence and continuing problems over identification of relevant military witnesses. Her concern seems genuine for families to have a sense that things are moving forward.
A considerable body of supporters walked from the City Hall to the courts in a great show of encouragement and solidarity for the families in the lead up to the hearing.
Once the inquest convened, in the largest court in the building (a reflection of the level of interest), a short hearing heard of a revised timetable as set out below.
Essentially, it is hoped to get through non-contentious material between November and the Christmas break, consisting of opening matters, and routine witnesses: ambulance personnel, mappers, witnesses with factual information about the area and the circumstances leading to the deaths. In 2019, the contentious witness evidence will be heard: military personnel, eye-witnesses, forensic and ballistics evidence and so on. In detail, the schedule is now as follows:
- Week beginning 6th November, screening applications (for witnesses who wish to give anonymised testimony)
- Week beginning 12th November, formal opening of inquest and family statements. Each family will nominate one member to give a statement about their loved one, their lives, the impact of the loss on their family and their hopes for and expectations of the inquest. Counsel of the coroner will then make an opening statement outlining the general circumstances of the deaths, post-incident matters, the practice at the time for the Royal Military Police to interview soldiers involved, proceedings at the first inquest, some details on the structure and manner of proceedings for the inquest and the law and any precedents to be borne in mind for proceedings. The scope of the inquest will also be outlined.
- Along with the non-contentious evidence, this should all take matters through to the Christmas break. Tracing of military witnesses will continue through the autumn, with Fridays set aside for this task and any rulings required in relation to it.
- The inquest will normally be in session from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Thursday, in Court 12, on the fourth floor of the Laganside Court building.
- The inquest is set to last for a considerable number of months, and given previous experience of the behaviour of the British military and MoD, further delays and prevarication are no doubt to be expected.