Coroner adjourns decision on Ballymurphy shootings inquest special status

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A decision over whether to grant a loyalist paramilitary go-between special status at a high-profile Troubles inquest has been adjourned.

Presiding coroner Siobhan Keegan has given the UVF witness four weeks to provide statements and submissions about the evidence they say they have before she makes a decision.

Soldiers have long been held responsible for killing 10 people in Ballymurphy but the accepted narrative became clouded earlier this year when former UVF members came forward to claim their organisation was also involved.

Loyalists have asked an interlocutor to present evidence that a UVF sniper shot some of the victims to the coroner’s court ahead of a fresh inquest in the autumn.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast in June, a lawyer for the go-between – known to the court at Witness X – made a formal submission urging the granting of Properly Interested Person status.

Such status would enable the interlocutor to access confidential files related to the inquest and cross-examine other witnesses due to give evidence.

Ballymurphy inquest
Families of those killed in the 1971 Ballymurphy Massacre protest outside Belfast High Court ahead of the inquest preliminary hearing (PA)

Karen Quinlivan QC, representing several of the Ballymurphy families, told the June hearing that the bid had “absolutely no merit”.

“The application being made really is an outrageous application,” she said.

“A person who’s not a witness to anything, didn’t witness any event and wants to give multiple hearsay accounts – essentially gossip among loyalists about Ballymurphy – and try to present that as evidence.”

On Friday, Ms Keegan told a preliminary hearing at Belfast High Court that, when that evidence has been given, she will be in a better position to make a decision on whether special status would be appropriate.

She said she is grateful to Witness X for coming forward to offer what she described as information about the movements of the UVF in the area.

“Rather than dismiss the application, I will adjourn it for review at the next preliminary inquiry in August,” she told the court.

The UVF men claims one of its members was responsible for shooting some of the Ballymurphy victims from a nearby loyalist estate. It is understood the man named by the organisation is a now deceased member called Tommy West.

A Catholic priest and a mother-of-eight were among those killed during three days of gunfire involving members of the Parachute Regiment in August 1971.

Another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with the troops in the west Belfast estate.

The shootings took place as the Army moved in to republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects in the wake of the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

The new inquest is due to formally open in September, with the next preliminary hearing set for August 29.

Ballymurphy inquest
The families of those killed at Ballymurphy have opposed the special status application (PA)

Fiona Doherty QC, appearing for some of the Ballymurphy families, expressed concern at the number of former soldiers who have been traced so far, arguing that the soldiers are “very, very important witnesses”.

Speaking outside court, John Teggart, whose father Danny was killed in the shootings, said he hopes that the application for special status for the loyalist witness will be dismissed next month.

“I was hoping that this saga would have been over today,” he told the Press Association.

“The coroner has allowed four weeks for Witness X to get in touch with the coroner’s office and bring forward any evidence he has.

“I would hope, come four weeks’ time, that if there is any evidence he comes forward, and if he doesn’t come forward in the four weeks that that be the end of that.

“Bringing second-hand information into the court like that, that could be done hundreds of times on our side where we have 144 civilian witnesses, first-hand witnesses to what happened at Ballymurphy.

“The resources within the coroner’s office are strained without wasting any more time on this.”

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