Springhill Inquest: MoD questioning of civilians witnesses having a ‘chill effect’

The Springhill/Westrock inquest today heard from Gerard Mateer. Mr Mateer was 11 years old at the time and lived in St James area. He said he left his home that day as he heard there was trouble and rioting in the Whiterock area. He claimed there was a crowd of people heading up the Whiterock Road towards Springfield Road.  The crowd then turned and made their way back down Whiterock Road as the British Army was firing tear gas. He later ended up in the Springhill area where he said he heard shooting coming from Corry’s Timberyard.  He also claimed he saw a man with a handgun who told him that he would be shot if he did not take cover. According to Gerard Mateer the man then fired a few shots in the direction of Corry’s Timberyard.  He said he saw the bodies of two people who had been shot.  They were David McCafferty, who he knew because he was friends with his brother and the body of a priest.

The other matter dealt with at the inquest was to hear legal arguments in relation to Rule 9 and its application during the inquest. Rule 9  provides that no witness at an inquest shall be obliged to answer any question that could incriminate themselves. When it appears to the coroner that a witness has been asked such a question, the coroner shall inform the witness that they may refuse to answer. Counsel for the families believes that the way Rule 9 is being applied during the inquest by the MoD is both intimidating and putting pressure on witnesses to answer questions about what they knew about the IRA. Legal representatives for the Springhill families have expressed concern about the line of questioning of what are civilian witnesses. This line of questioning is having a “chill effect” senior counsel Karen Quinlivan KC told the inquest. “Witnesses are panicked into answering questions about what they knew about the IRA and its membership. This line of cross examination by the MoD is intimidating” she added.  In response Joseph Aiken KC counsel for the MoD said that there was civilian witness who have refused to give information to the inquest about people they knew were members of illegal organizations.

Submissions have been provided to the coroner on the matter by the legal representatives for the families and the MoD.  The coroner will rule on the matter at a later date.

The inquest continues tomorrow Friday 24th November.