Northern Ireland

Joseph Parker inquest: New witness 'saw soldier shoot at man'

Joseph Parker
Image caption Joseph Parker died a day after he was shot at a Belfast dance hall in 1971

A new witness has come forward with fresh evidence at the inquest of a man killed by soldiers during a dance hall event in Belfast over 45 years ago.

Joseph Parker, 25, was shot in Toby's Hall in Ardoyne in December 1971 and died the following day of gunshot wounds to his legs.

The inquest was told the witness, John Craig, only heard about the case last week and called the Coroner's Office.

He testified that he saw one soldier crouch down and fire at a man's groin.

However, his evidence was disputed by the lawyer for the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Craig is a former band member who was performing in the hall on the night of the shooting.

The retired De La Salle school teacher contacted the Coroner's Office about the inquest last Friday.

He had never before given a statement about the incident, but appeared to testify on the fourth day of the hearing into Mr Parker's death.

At the time of the shooting, Mr Craig was 17 years old and was the lead guitarist of a band called The Circle.

'Menacing'

He told the court he would never forget the noise inside Toby's Hall in Ardoyne on that December night in 1971.

Mr Parker, a father of two, had gone to the dance with his sister, uncle and some friends.

At about 22:30 GMT that night, members of the Lancashire Regiment came into the hall and said they were looking for "wanted men".

What happened next is the subject of this inquest.

Mr Craig told the court he had "a vivid memory" of that night "as it was the only time he'd ever seen somebody shot".

Describing the atmosphere inside the hall as "menacing" after the soldiers walked in, he said a priest asked them to start playing to try to defuse the situation.

He remembered playing T. Rex's song, Get It On.

He said the soldiers were jostling their way through the dancers, a girl threw a crisp packet and next thing he remembered was hearing a shot.

'Not feasible'

He said he saw one solider crouch down and fire at a man in the groin area. Then he heard more shots.

A lawyer for the Ministry of Defence described elements of Mr Craig's evidence as "fantastical" and "simply not true".

During cross examination, he described Mr Craig's account of leaving the scene, hidden under a blanket in an ambulance, as "not feasible" and added "it didn't happen".

Other witness statements - given by 12 soldiers at the time of the shooting - were also read to the court.

The commanding officer, Cpt Barton, described being "dragged off his feet and held down by a number of people".

'Overpowered'

After hearing a gunshot, the captain said "he cocked his weapon" and when his rifle butt "hit the floor, a round was fired".

Cpt Barton went on to say that the bullet "must have gone into the roof".

He then managed to break free, get to his feet and leave the hall with his men. His sergeant's head and face were covered in blood, the court heard.

Cpt Barton's statement said that if shots had not been fired by his "men in the hall", he would not have been "released" and they would have been "overpowered".

That would have "caused serious if not fatal injury," the officer claimed.

One of the 12 soldiers recounted seeing a man with a long brown coat and a rifle running out of the hall and shooting "wildly" and then running back inside.

No other soldier mentioned a gunman.

Related Topics

More on this story