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Ballymurphy Massacre victims want Hillsborough-style inquiry

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonell

FAMILIES of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims have stepped up their campaign for a Hillsborough-style inquiry to clear their loved ones’ names.

Children of the 11 people killed by British paratroopers in Belfast more than 40 years ago recently travelled to Westminster to lobby MPs for an independent investigation.

They claim that, like the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster, the Ballymurphy casualties have been victims of a major cover-up.

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All 11, which included a priest and a mother-of-eight, were branded as gun-wielding republican paramilitaries after their deaths.

John Teggart, whose father died after being shot 14 times in the incident, told The Irish Post the families have gathered information which they believe clears their loved ones’ names.

The campaign has been backed by SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, who described the Ballymurphy Massacre as “one of the lasting tragedies of the conflict in Northern Ireland”.

A total of 10 people were shot and killed by British Army soldiers over three days in Ballymurphy in August 1971. Another died after suffering a heart attack.

The Army said it fired in response to shots from republican paramilitaries.

The killings took place during Operation Demetrius, when people suspected of paramilitary activity were interned.

“My father was branded an IRA gunman,” Mr Teggart said.

“All these people, including the Catholic priest, were branded as gunmen and Joan Connolly as a gunwoman. We need to change the official version of what is still around 42 years later.”

The campaigners say they were told in 2012 by then Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson that an inquiry “would not be in the public interest”.

But Mr Teggart believes an investigation similar to that of the Hillsborough Independent Panel is a “realistic approach to dealing with the past”, and would cost the taxpayer less than £500,000.

The families have drawn up proposals for a Ballymurphy panel chaired by the North’s first Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan.

It would also include Birmingham Six lawyer Gareth Peirce.

“There needs to be a political will for dealing with the past,” Mr Teggart explained.

“We have the evidence. We know the truth. It is there in black and white and this is a realistic approach.

“It cannot be said that it is not in the public interest for less than £500,000 to investigate the deaths of 11 people.”

The campaigner added that the families have compiled eye-witness statements, autopsy reports, forensics reports and other documents showing that the 11 were “not near firearms”.

As The Irish Post went to press the Ballymurphy families were due to address MPs in Westminster, at a meeting facilitated by SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell.

Referring to the Ballymurphy victims as “unarmed civilians”, Mr McDonnell said: “No investigations have ever been carried out and nobody has ever been held to account.”

During their time in Westminster, the families were expected to brief all SDLP MPs on their campaign before holding an open meeting for all MPs. Mr Teggart said they also intended to meet British Government officials.

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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2 comments on “Ballymurphy Massacre victims want Hillsborough-style inquiry”

  1. ben madigan

    Have a look at posts entitled "The ballymurphy massacre" and "HM Government says no" on eurofree3.wordpress.com

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  2. Diarmuid Breatnach

    With respect to any relative of the 11 Ballymurphy dead, an inquiry should not be about "clearing" the victims but about apportioning responsibility where it belongs and trying to identify the reasons.

    All the evidence, British soldiers apart, is that the victims were unarmed civilians. Campaigners should give no credibility whatsoever to the Army statements in this case and talking about "clearing" the victims suggests that there was some kind of doubt as to their being non-combatants and that perhaps there was some kind of "mistake" by the soldiers.

    Reading the account of events compiled from a large number of witnesses and the even some aspects of the British Army's own account, what emerges is a kind of British soldier killing spree over a period of two days.

    Indiscipline? Hardly -- these were the Parachute Regiment. Vindictiveness? Possibly, since nine British soldiers and a number of UDR and RUC had been killed by the IRA by that date (and the British Army had also killed two IRA already that year and four civilians -- Wikipedia tally). Revenge killings by one or two soldiers are possible but 11 victims over two days looks more like policy, approved by senior commanding officers. And these were the Paras, remember, who a few months later in Derry would shoot dead 13 people and fatally wound a 14th.

    There are two more likely scenarios, it seems to me, and both involve the deliberate killing of civilians by the Paras and agreed by the GOC of British armed forces in Ireland. In the first, the Paras killed civilians in Ballymurphy (and a couple elsewhere) in order to give the IRA something to worry about while they were lifting hundreds of people in Operation Demetrius, the beginning of internment (also carried out by the Paras).

    But since internment was going on in a number of areas in the nationalist areas of the Six Counties, concentrating that amount of civilian killings in the Ballymurphy area alone would be unlikely to tie down the IRA elsewhere (even though it was one of their more active areas). And then there's the "coincidence" of the Paras also being the regiment who killed the fourteen in Derry a few months later.

    The other possibility and which seems the most likely to me is that the deliberate killing of civilians was intended to bring the Official and especially Provisional IRA out into a firefight with the British Army at a time and on ground of the British Army's own choosing. This was the purpose in Ballymurphy AND in Derry.

    In Ballymurphy, the British shots came from their army base which was a strong vantage point from which to engage in a battle with a guerrilla army. And they may well have had the special sniper guns which the British Army later admitted having in Derry.

    In Derry, the British did not have the advantage of such a base with a clear view of their killing ground and the Paras were deployed on the ground. But they did have those specially-adapted rifles, and they did have British soldiers on top of the Derry Walls, with a good view of most of the area.

    The general consensus among realistic analysts (ie those without illusions in the behaviour of the British Army or of the State) is that the Paras in Derry were sent to “root out the terrorists and hooligans”, which they believe to be a reference to stone-throwing youth.

    A confidential memorandum from Gen. Sir Robert Ford, commander of land forces in Northern Ireland, to his superior, Gen. Sir Harry Tuzo, expressed concern at the number of no-go areas that the army was prevented from entering by pro-Republican youth, the "Derry Young Hooligans (DYH)". He wrote, “I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders amongst the DYH, after clear warnings have been issued”.

    So, the Ballymurphy and Derry Massacres may have both been about "teaching a lesson" to the working class people of the nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry ("hooligans"). Or it may have been about drawing out Republican guerrilla fighters ("terrorists") into a fight on British Army terms. Or it may have been intended with either outcome counted as desirable. What seems pretty clear is that it was deliberate killing of unarmed civilians and that it was sanctioned from high in the Parachute Regiment and within the British state.

    The Saville Inquiry in the end accused some individual Paras of lying and blamed them directly for the dead and, less directly, their officer commanding on the ground in Derry. It did not lay blame upon Parachute Regiment as whole, much less upon the British Army in the Six Counties nor upon the British State for intentional killing of civilians. Despite saying it would examine every accusation, it did not even pretend to examine the possibility of that cause of the massacre and so, naturally, could not find it. But it did reject the claim of the planting of a nail bomb on one of the deceased, an event that was clear from the evidence of a number of witnesses. Of course, British soldiers going into a "policing" role or even a "snatching operation" of "suspects" or "troublemakers", would not be carrying a nail bomb, would they? Not unless they planned to plant one on somebody -- say, an unarmed civilian they had murdered?

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