Springhill inquest will not be concluded in this calendar year says coroner.

The Springhill Inquest resumed on Friday 21st April to review the proceedings to date. The coroner Mr. Justice Scofield stated that it was his belief that the inquest would not conclude this calendar year. The inquest heard the concluding evidence of civilian witness Rosemary Heath an application for ‘Properly Interested Person’s’  (PIP) status and the efforts of the coroner’s office to find military witnesses.

Rosemary Heath a resident of the Westrock district finished off giving her evidence which was in relation to the death of Margaret Gargan. At the last hearing of the inquest on Friday 10th March 2023 she had given evidence about seeing Margaret Gargan coming from the bingo at the Community Centre. She was sitting on the path outside her friend’s house when Margaret Gargan was shot.

The application for ‘Properly Interested Person’ (PIP) status was the next item up for discussion. Broadly speaking, a Properly Interested Person is someone who has the right to actively participate in the inquest proceedings at the discretion of the coroner. An Interested Person will be entitled to legal advice, representation, and have access to disclosure material during the inquest proceedings.

The application was made in the name of Brian Pettigrew who was shot and injured by the British Army on the night of the incident. He was already appearing before the inquest as a civilian witness to the events. However, because the soldiers had said in their statements that they had fired and hit ‘armed gunmen’ there is the potential for Brian Pettigrew to be perceived especially by counsel for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as a ‘gunman.’

Brian Pettigrew evidence as a civilian witness to the inquest is that he was at home along with John Dougal on the night of the incident. They had heard shots and went outside to see what was happening and discovered that a local person, Martin Dudley, had been shot. As he went to his aid he was shot in the arm. Both he and John Dougal then tried to run back towards   the house, but he was shot a number of times in the back. John Dougal was also shot, and he fell to the ground. Brian Pettigrew’s father was able to get Brian into the house, who by this stage was bleeding heavily from his gunshot wounds. However, he was not able to get to John Dougal as the intensity of the firing made it impossible to venture outside. Several hours later they were able to carry John Dougal’s body into the house but unfortunately at this stage he was dead.

However, the MoD, may attempt to portray Brian Pettigrew as one of the gunmen that the British Army were firing at and that is how he received his injuries. Their strategy and tactics up to now has been to try and justify the lethal force used by British soldiers. Therefore, their cross-examination of his evidence may be important in their defence of the soldiers.  They have tried to paint a picture of the whole Springhill and Westrock community as ‘IRA supporters’ up to now.  Counsel for MoD Joseph Aiken’s hostile questioning of every civilian witness who has taken the stand so far has been to ask them what they knew about IRA members and their activity in the Springhill district on the night of the British Army killings. Throughout the inquest they have argued that the IRA’s intentions were to kill members of the British Army and that soldiers had used legitimate force against IRA gunmen.

Counsel for the coroner Martin O’Rourke informed the inquest that the coroner’s office had contacted 30 military witnesses but to date only 4 of them have responded by contacting the Crown Solicitor’s Office. Interviews with those military witnesses will be conducted in the next few weeks.

The coroner Mr. Justice Scofield then outlined the way forward in the inquest. He said that module 1 had been mostly about hearing the evidence of civilian witnesses and additional modules need to be progressed in the time ahead. However, he stated that it was his belief that the inquest would not conclude this calendar year.

The next review of the inquest was set for Thursday 25th May 2023 at 9.30am