Ex-soldier stands by his evidence around fatal 1971 shooting of man in Belfast

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A former soldier has stood by his version of events around the fatal shooting of a man in Belfast almost 50 years ago.

The ex-Royal Engineer, who has been granted anonymity, denied embellishing his evidence to justify his decision to open fire.

The man, referred to during the inquest as witness M3, made the comments during a new inquest into the death of Eddie Doherty, 31.

The father of four died after he was shot close to a barricade in west Belfast on August 10 1971.

The inquest in Belfast has heard how M3 had been tasked with dismantling a barricade on the Whiterock Road on the day of Mr Doherty’s death.

The incident came during several days of shootings from August 9-11.

Victims of the Ballymurphy massacre
Victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre (Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA)

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

M3’s evidence is that he and the Parachute Regiment soldiers with him were met by a hostile crowd at the barricade and missiles were thrown at them.

He contends a man threw two petrol bombs at his tractor as he attempted to clear the barricade and had been about to throw a third when he fired a single shot and saw the man fall.

“I was in fear of my life, I thought I am going to die here,” M3 told the inquest.

M3 also said he saw a man running with a gun and fired a burst of four shots at him.

Counsel for Mr Doherty’s family, Fiona Doherty QC, put to M3 that he has “made up a story to cover up what had happened”.

M3 responded: “It happened exactly the way I remembered it 47 years ago.”

In response to questions from a barrister for the Ministry of Defence, M3 said it was the first and only time he has ever fired a gun at a human being, and described the experience as “terrible”.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” he said, adding he had had “seconds” to make the decision to open fire.

Earlier, Ms Doherty put it to M3 that he has embellished his evidence to justify opening fire, pointing to inconsistencies between a number of statements he has made over the years.

The family of Eddie Doherty outside Belfast Coroner’s Court
The family of Eddie Doherty outside Belfast Coroner’s Court (Rebecca Black/PA)

M3 denied this was the case.

The inquest previously heard M3 say it was possible the shot he fired had not hit the man with the petrol bomb, but a bystander instead.

“It could be,” M3 told the inquest.

The inquest also heard that M3 had had a “history of dishonesty” at the time of the incident, which included failing to disclose to the Army when he enlisted in 1969 that he had been discharged from the Royal Navy, and that he had been convicted in a military court of stealing and cashing a cheque in 1971.

When asked by Coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan why he was dismissed from the Royal Navy, M3 said it was because he had “borrowed a staff car”.

Mr Doherty’s family have insisted he was innocent and have spoken of their determination to “clear his name”.

Fresh inquests were directed into the deaths of 10 people at Ballymurphy following claims that the original coronial probes were inadequate.

They are the latest in a series of new inquests into incidents which took place during Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The inquest continues.

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