Ballymurphy Inquest: Soldier 'spotted and fired at gunmen'

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The Ballymurphy victims
Image caption,
The inquest is examining the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy in 1971

A former soldier has described spotting and firing at gunmen during a Belfast firefight in which two civilians died, almost 50 years ago.

The last few military witnesses have begun appearing at the Ballymurphy Inquest in Belfast.

Proceedings began in November 2018 looking into the deaths of 10 civilians in the Springmartin and Ballymurphy areas in August 1971.

The deaths took place immediately after the introduction of internment in NI.

The latest witnesses have been called to assist with the investigation into the deaths of Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn on 9 August that year.

M1270 appeared by videolink and recalled the shooting during the incident.

He was a member of anti-tank platoon of 2 Para Support Company, and is the first of that company to tell the inquest about firing at gunmen during the incident.

Firing at gunmen

He described deploying with his unit in Springmartin flats that evening, and spotting three gunmen some distance away beside Moyard flats.

He believed they had been firing at undisclosed targets, in an area close to the Henry Taggart and Vere Foster army base.

M1270 said he fired two rounds at a gunman near a bin collection area, but says he missed the man and hit a bin beside him, which he thought had sprayed shrapnel over him.

Image caption,
Fr Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn were shot behind Springfield Park

He was able to indicate to the court on a 1971 map of the area, where he and the gunmen had been located.

He told the court he thought he fired around seven rounds over a period of no more than two minutes, but doesn't believe he hit anyone.

M1270 conceded that he could have hit one or more of them, but had seen no evidence to believe so.

He testified that two of the gunmen had fired at his unit, before taking cover and disappearing from view.

He also said he could not recall seeing the waste ground where the two civilians were shot dead.

He said he could not be sure what other members of his unit had seen or fired at.

There has been very little evidence during the current inquest from soldiers saying they fired their weapons during this incident.

Father Mullan and Frank Quinn died on the waste ground after running to help another man who had been shot and wounded.

'No memory'

M1270 insisted he did not make a statement to the Royal Military Police in 1971.

He denied a suggestion from a barrister for the Mullan and Quinn families that he was one of the ciphered soldiers who gave statements in 1971 and had admitted firing at the waste ground where the two men died.

He also denied he was being untruthful to the court about seeing the gunmen, and could have fired the shots which killed Father Mullan and Mr Quinn.

Earlier, Soldier M1354 gave evidence from behind a screen in court.

The Coroner revealed she had initially not intended to hear evidence from him, but called him to court at the request of the next of kin.

M1354 was a member of 2 Para Support Company on 9th August, but insisted he had no memory of being in the Springmartin area on 9th August 1971.

He denied a suggestion by a barrister for the Mullan and Quinn families that he was being deliberately unhelpful to the court.