Springhill inquest Wednesday 8th November 2023

Springhill Families arrive at Belfast Inquest Court

The Springhill inquest today heard from two civilian witnesses Joanna McCullagh and Bernadette Callaghan, who were young teenagers at the time. Before the civilian witnesses were heard there was some discussion regarding statements and material relating to soldiers who will be represented at the inquest.

Ian Skelt counsel for some soldiers asked the coroner about the sharing of information from soldiers who are referred to as ciphers in the inquest because a Properly Interested Person (PIP)  application may need to be made on behalf of some of the people he represents.

Karen Quinlivan objected to ciphered statements being made available as it could lead to a narrative being formed that all military witnesses will follow and back up each other’s account or version of events.

Mr. Justice Scoffield said some information has been disclosed to some military witnesses as one of the main objectives in the inquest is to try and establish who these ciphered statements are as they may be the people who fired shots or who know about the shootings and that they will be able to shed light on who the soldiers are or indeed if they are the soldiers in the ciphered statements.

The first civilian witness to take the stand was Joanna McCullagh who was 14 years old at the time and lived in Ballymurphy. She had been in the Springhill area on the day on the incident and said she saw a man a soldier running along the wall at Corry’s Timberyard with a long gun shooting. She believed he fired shots in the direction of the gaps between the houses in Westrock. You could see the bullets hitting the ground she said. He also said something, but she couldn’t  remember what he said.

She made her way to the Pettigrew family house where she saw John Dougal outside. He was shot and people were trying to go out of the house to help him but there was a lot of shooting. When things calmed down people went out and brought his body into the Pettigrew house. We got out of the house by knocking through a wall into the adjoining house. There was a man outside with a handgun when we came out of the house. We got through the fence  nearby Corrigan Park and went to St Peter’s school.

Joseph Aiken counsel for the MoD questioned Joanna McCullagh about the man she saw with the handgun when she came out of the house. He asked her if she knew or had ever found out the identity of the man with the gun since then. Joanna McCullagh said she did not know the identity of the man. He also asked her if she knew anybody who was in the IRA, Cumann na mBan or Fianna Eireann. The witness invoked her privilege and did not answer the question.

The second civilian witness to take the stand was Bernadette Callaghan. She said she was at home on the night of the 9th July 1972 and heard shooting – local people had said it was coming from Corry’s Timberyard. She remembers a man being shot the next day, and she believed the shots had come from Corry’s Timberyard.

Joseph Aiken as he had done with the other witness asked Bernadette  Callaghan if she knew anyone in the area who were members of any illegal organizations at the time. Like the first witness she invoked her privilege and did not answer the question.

The inquest continues tomorrow Thursday 9th November.