Ballymurphy Inquest Day 1

1st Day of the Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest
Blog by Mary McCallan
Opening day of the Ballymurphy inquests

47 years since the killing of ten civilians in Ballymurphy between the 9th and 11th August 1971, today marked the beginning of the fresh inquests into the Ballymurphy massacre.

Two representatives from each of the families were seated in the main body of the court, with many more family members and supporters in the public gallery. Mr. Dornan, representing the Coroner opened the case by reading out the names and ages of each of the deceased. After expressing his condolences to the families, he explained that the Coroner intends to deal with the 10 deaths, over three days as 5 linked incidents grouped as follows:

Father Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn
Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips and Daniel Teggart
Edward Doherty
Joseph Corr and John Laverty
and John McKerr

Reference was also made to the 11th victim, Paddy McCarthy, who died of a heart attack after being confronted by soldiers on the 11th August 2018. Whilst a fresh inquest has not been ordered in Mr. McCarthy’s case, Mr. Dornan explained that he would be referring to the case during the proceedings.

Mr. Dornan went on to provide some context to the killings, referring to the introduction of internment, Operation Demetrius, and the number of other incidents that occurred across Belfast in August 1971. He highlighted the difficulties the court will face given the lapse of time since the incidents and the loss of records in the cases.

RFJ would point out that responsibility for these “difficulties” lies with the state and emanates from the policies they chose to pursue at the time and in the years after.

Some families and RFJ were concerned that Counsel was setting out a context which appeared favourable to the state and were relieved when Mr. Dornan stated that “context should not provide a shield or buffer against scrutiny”.

Formal evidence in relation to each of the five incidents will commence next week, but a brief summary of the facts, and the evidence intended to be presented was covered today. Mr. Dornan provided the location, circumstances and time of death for each of the ten victims, as well as details of the autopsy and cause of death, and the person who had identified the deceased’s body. The families listened attentively, with some remarking at the lunch break their sense of relief that after 24 preliminary hearings, the inquests had begun.

As these proceedings are live, we will refrain from commenting on the evidence presented and the areas of contention. All are to be outlined and argued out in much greater detail over the forthcoming months. It was also made clear that statement taking and evidence gathering is ongoing, and not all military and civilian witnesses have been interviewed and signed statements. Appeals for people with relevant information to come forward were repeated in court.

Details of some of the witnesses whom the Coroner intends to call were summarized. RFJ will follow proceedings carefully, as some of the evidence provided will be of relevance to other families who lost loved ones as a result of direct state violence. Proceedings resume tomorrow morning at 10.30am.