Ballymurphy Massacre Inquests Day 45 04/04/19

Posted By: April 05, 2019

The court heard evidence from M1374 a former Private Rifleman from 6 platoon, B Company, 2 Para, who was stationed in Vere Foster school. He like other soldiers was granted anonymity and screened from the public, but immediate family members were permitted to see him from the jury box.
M1374 told the court he was deployed to the Henry Taggart hall in the evening of the 9th August 1971, he said “it was daylight but is was getting dark” when he heard sporadic gunfire going overhead.  He described “the crack and thump” of high velocity shots being aimed at Vere Foster school.  At that point M1374 pulled gym benches against a wall and climbed up to look out the window but all that he could see was the roofs of the houses in Ballymurphy.  He said there were 3 or 4 soldiers standing on the benches but he couldn’t get his rifle into a firing position.
M1374 recalled hearing a Lieutenant shout “Do not fire unless you identify the gunman”.  M1374 told the court there were 6 or 8 soldiers in the hall and he did not see anyone discharge their weapon and he did not discharge his weapon. 
M1374 recalled leaving the hall to go outside, he saw 4 or 5 soldiers in a sandbagged sangar at the entrance to the hall, they were resting their rifles on the sandbags pointing them towards the manse field.  M1374 said “I do not know who these soldiers were and did not see any of them fire a shot”.  M1372 positioned himself behind a sandbag to cover the Moyard flats and could hear gunfire to his right.  He said shots were fired at them every few minutes.  He told the court “I do not remember hearing any soldier discharge their weapons whilst I was outside and I did not discharge my weapon”.
M1374 recalled seeing a lieutenant and a couple of soldiers leave the Henry Taggart in an armoured vehicle sometime after dark and return sometime later.  He told the court “I am pretty certain that a lieutenant carried a woman on his back straight into the big room where the medic was”.  He believed a second body was also carried into the medic’s room but couldn’t recall much about it. 
He described seeing another man being carried in on a stretcher by two soldiers who left him in the corridor. M1374 said “he was alive as I could hear him groaning but I couldn’t see what his injuries were”.  He described the casualty as being “30 to 40 years old, dark hair, clean shaven and wore dark clothes”.  M1374 was asked to guard him in case he tried to “flee or attack”.  M1374 told the court “I do not know the identities of the two soldiers or what company they were in”.
A few minutes later M1374 helped lift the stretcher into the medic’s room and as he did he could feel the blood which had soaked into the stretcher drip onto the arms of the stretcher.  He told the court the man was still alive when he left him in the medic’s room and that he could see other people lying on two or three beds including the woman.  He said the woman was dead “I could see that her head was shot away and she was as white as a sheet”.  As M1374 was leaving the medics room he saw the Lieutenant who brought her in and they made eye to eye contact.
M1374 returned outside to complete his sangar duties and recalled that the sangar to his left was resupplied with a “bandolier of ammunition which would have contained 50 rounds”.  M1374 returned to Vere Foster were he heard shots being fired, he looked out the window and could see muzzle flashes coming from the upstairs windows of houses on Springmartin Road.  M1474 believed they were firing in the direction of Ballymurphy.  M1374 couldn’t remember what time this was but said it was after the bodies had been brought into the Henry Taggart.  
The next day he was tasked with clearing up outside the Henry Taggart Hall after the previous day’s rioting, and said he could see damage to the sangars at the base.  M1374 said he took the damage to be from gunfire and stones thrown during rioting.
Mr Hutton council for the Teggart and Phillips families asked M1374 if it was possible that the Lieutenant shouted “stop firing to allow for more control” rather than “Do not fire unless you identify the gunman”, as soldiers had already started firing, M2374 replied “no”.
Mr Hutton asked M1374 about the bodies being brought into the hall particularly that of Mrs Connolly who was brought in on the back of a Lieutenant.  He said “was there a shortage of stretchers” adding “is there a particular reason why the woman wasn’t given the dignity of being carried in on a stretcher?”  M1374 replied “I don’t know”.  Mr Hutton asked “how was she carried” M1374 said “on the Lieutenants back” Mr Hutton asked what that meant was it like “carrying a sack of coal or sack of potatoes”, M1374 replied “like a piggy back”.
M1374 told Mr Hutton that he seen Mrs Connolly in the medics room, she was stretched out on a bed, with a sheet over her but the sheet did not cover her face.
Mr Hutton asked M1374 what the purpose of making eye contact with the Lieutenant was?  He said “Was it because you thought Oh my God, we’ve shot a woman?  Was it because you thought Oh my God, there are going to be repercussions?”  M1374 replied “No”.
Mr Hutton further suggested “Were you of the view that the Paras were going to have to get their story straight about how this lady was shot in the face?” M1374 replied “there would have had to have been an inquiry and Statements would have had to be made,”. He added: “They would have to tell the truth.” Mr Hutton suggested “Your truth involved you being in the Henry Taggart hall and not seeing a soldier firing one shot and you being outside the Henry Taggart hall and not seeing one soldier firing a single shot”, M1374 replies “that’s true”.
Mr Hutton asked M1374 if he had been surprised that soldiers needed a resupply of 50 rounds of ammunition given that he hadn’t seen or heard any soldiers either inside or outside the Henry Taggart fire one shot, M13874 replied “I am not sure what you mean”.
M1374 was asked if he could assist the court in identifying any of the other soldiers in B company or any of the soldiers in the hall or any of the soldiers in the sangar.  Mr Heraghty council for the coroner showed M1374 a list of names and asked “do any of those ring a bell or help your recollection” M1374 replied “No”.
The next witness to give evidence was Agnes Keenan nee O’Hare now 82, she lived at 692 Springfield Road and the gable of her house overlooked the manse field.  Mrs Keenan told the court that she was at home with her mother, sister in law and sister Margaret, who has previously given evidence.  
She described talking to a group of 20 people at the gate of their home, one of them was Mrs Connolly.   She said they were going to help the people in Springfield Park who were being put out.  Mrs Keenan said they weren’t up in Springfield Park long before returning because they “weren’t wanted or needed”.
She described seeing soldiers coming from the direction of the Henry Taggart “they were marching very quickly” she said.  Everybody then ran away and she returned to her house.  She said “It was really quite scary having soldiers flying down towards you”.  Mrs Keenan said she heard shooting telling the court “I couldn’t begin to describe it” but heard the shots hitting the gable wall.  She described hearing the “rumble of a jeep coming close to the wall” sometime after dark.
She described crawling on her stomach across the floor to a window overlooking the Manse field.  Mrs Keenan told the court her sister Margaret had looked out the window earlier and the soldiers “raked the whole top of the window from the tower” in the Henry Taggart.  
Mrs Keenan described seeing a jeep reverse towards the gable wall of the house.  She saw soldiers through the window and the back of the jeep lit up by torch light.  She described seeing bodies inside the jeep “arms and legs”, she said, but she couldn’t see any faces.  She then saw two soldiers lift Mrs Connolly’s body “an arm and a leg each” and throw her into the back of the jeep like “a sack of potatoes” adding “That will stay with me until I die, you know. You always say that the dead deserve respect. That will stay with me until the day I die.”
Mr Keenan told the court “looking at it now, it was very undignified and inappropriate.  Mrs Connolly didn’t die with dignity and certainly wasn’t treated like that after she was dead”.
The Inquests resume Monday 8th April at 10.30 a.m.