Calls for UK apology after coroner finds Ballymurphy victims ‘entirely innocent’

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Calls are growing for the UK government to issue an apology to the families of 10 civilians killed in west Belfast in 1971.

Apology now

Fresh inquests into the deaths involving the Army concluded that the victims were “entirely innocent” and soldiers were responsible for nine of the fatal shootings. Coroner justice Keegan found that the use of lethal force by the Army was not justified. She also criticised the lack of investigation into the 10th death, that of John McKerr, and said she could not definitively rule who had shot him.

Ballymurphy inquest
Families celebrate outside Belfast Coroner’s Court (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long urged the government to “step up and formally apologise for the actions of the Army on the day in question”.

Precedent

In 2010 former prime minister David Cameron apologised to the families of 13 civil rights marchers in Derry in 1972 who were fatally shot by soldiers after an inquiry found all were innocent. Long said:

We saw how much a similar apology in relation to Bloody Sunday meant to the families there, and I encourage the Government to acknowledge the courage of the Ballymurphy families with a similar statement.

Read on...

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On 11 May, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis acknowledged the hurt to the families of the 10 people killed, which included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest. He said:

The Government will carefully consider the extensive findings set out by the coroner, but it is clear that those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing

Civil action

A solicitor who represents the Ballymurphy families said they have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence. Padraig O Muirigh said:

In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that

Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster said it had been a “long road for the Ballymurphy families” and commended their tenacity. Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill described a “powerful day”, adding:

It has laid bare for all to see that the British forces murdered their family members, their innocent family members. They have always known that and now the whole world sees that is the case.

Internment

The shootings in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast came over three days from 9-11 August following the controversial introduction of internment without trial. Soldiers were met with violence across Northern Ireland as they detained IRA suspects.

Justice Keegan acknowledged in her lengthy rulings that the killings took place in a “highly charged and difficult environment”.

However, the presiding coroner said it was “very clear” that “all of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.

Relatives of those killed applauded in Belfast Coroner’s Court as their loved ones were officially found innocent after 50 years.

Misinformation had been circulated that they had been terrorists.

Ballymurphy inquest
One of the cavalcade of cars passing through Ballymurphy, with a white flag bearing victim Edward Doherty’s picture and the word innocent (Liam McBurney/PA)

There were celebrations in west Belfast on 11 May. A cavalcade of cars made its way through the streets beeping horns while white flags with the word “innocent” on them were waved.

Original inquests into the Ballymurphy deaths in 1972 returned open verdicts and the bereaved families subsequently pursued a long campaign for fresh probes to be held.

New inquests began in 2018, with the final oral evidence heard last March.

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