PSNI and MOD still dragging their heals in the Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest’s

Posted By: December 01, 2016

“People are dying, witnesses are dying, family members are dying, I think we have waited long enough; the families have waited long enough” Michael Mansfield QC
Today the Ballymurphy Massacre families attended a preliminary hearing in Belfast High Court, the hearing was an update by Counsel to the Coroner on a number of issues including disclosure, Tracing of witnesses and a review of pathology/ballistic evidence.
During the review on disclosure families learned that the PSNI delivered four folders to the coroners court only yesterday, one day before the hearing.  The coroner, Justice Adrian Colton expressed concern that four folders had been delivered the day before the hearing and stated that this is becoming a pattern and causes great problems.  He also questioned the QC for the PSNI as to why this had happened, who replied he didn’t have the full details.  The PSNI had over a year to disclose these documents and didn’t feel the need to until the day before the hearing.  Fiona Doherty QC for the families shared the concerns of the coroner and asked if a written explanation could be provided to the court as to when the folders were discovered and why they were just presented yesterday.
During the review of tracing army witnesses, the MOD revealed that there are potentially 327 witnesses and that only 1 had been traced because the mod lost the cipher list that would identify the soldiers involved.  Michael Mansfield QC for the families expressed concerns that only one soldier had been traced and said that a solution better than the one we have must be found.  He said that members of families and witnesses are dying and that there is a real urgency in relation to this, “it beggars belief that only one cipher list existed”.  He suggested again that the MOD could use an external company, such as the one used in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, who traced every single soldier.  That idea was suggested at the previous hearing over a year ago but was not taken up by the MOD.
In relation to civilian witnesses it was acknowledged by counsel for the coroner that the family’s legal representatives had supplied a helpful list of witnesses many of whom had already made statements and that the coroner’s investigator would get involved to take statements from those who hadn’t.
The review of Pathology/ballistics identified that work had been carried out on the collation of existing documents but that funding was required to progress additional reports. In relation to ballistics Michael Mansfield QC said there should be a straight forward way to progress this, “If a soldier fires a gun, he must report to a sergeant and records are kept”, “The armoury log will show what rifle was issued to whom and a time and the number of rounds issued to ensure that nothing has been lost or stolen – We want answers”.  Council for the coroner confirmed that no logs had been disclosed to date.
Michael Mansfield QC asked the corner if he could give a date either for the end of next year of spring of the following year for the start of the inquest “It would bring comfort and assistance to the families if you were able to indicate today a date for the inquest”.  To the disappointment of the families and an audible gasp for the public gallery the coroner wasn’t able to give a start date explaining that “I don’t want to set a date and disappoint families”.  He acknowledged that errors were made in giving dates before that had passed and he was determined not to repeat that.  He also stated that he could not schedule a hearing today because he did not know how much money the Coroner’s Service would have next year.
The coroner then set the date of the next hearing to 23rd Jan 2017, which was agreed by all the legal representatives except the QC for the PSNI/MOD who requested a four-week extension to the 23rd Feb 2017.
Speaking after the hearing about the MOD’s failure to trace soldiers Michael Mansfield QC said “  Its seems to me that when you’re dealing with events that took place a long time ago, you  got to have a professional and independent agency that actually does the job.  Now in Bloody Sunday there was one and it did it successfully and it traced nearly all the soldier that were involved and eventually statements were gathered, some of them were ciphered but some weren’t.  It seems to me allowing the internal agency, the Minister of Defence to do it, in a somewhat long-winded way, one has to remember five years ago people were on notice that these inquests were going to happen.  Now five years ago if I were on the inside, I would start preparing then, I would start looking for records then, I would start finding lists then, however nothing much has happened until essentially the court itself says well what about this what about that and the actually tracing seems to have been going on for, well we don’t know exactly how long, certainly at least a year probably a bit more.  Now in relation to that we are not dealing with a vast number, its 327 soldiers, now that again is something that can be done relatively quickly, even if you have to go to their addresses because people are not going to pick up correspondence.  It’s a very very important issue, to find the witnesses, it seems to me today perhaps, at last, there is a recognition that this has to be done expeditiously, people are dying, witnesses are dying, family members are dying, I think we have waited long enough; the families have waited long enough.
Speaking about the disclosure by the PSNI of four additional folder, Briege Voyle daughter of Joan Connolly said “ We have just found out that there are four more folders of information from the PSNI that have only apparently come to light, it just isn’t good enough that they were only given into the coroners court yesterday and we could be waiting weeks before we actually get to see it, how long do they need these people, how long does it take them to gather the information and get it to the families so that we can get some movement on inquests, but it’s good to see that the judge wants answers, he wants to know why it wasn’t done and why they were just delivered yesterday.”

Speaking outside Belfast High court John Teggart who father Danny Teggart was shot 14 times reacted angrily  to the reason for this decision said “today’s decision proves what Lord Chief Justice Morgan Declan Morgan has been telling politicians,  the funding for legacy inquest needs to happen immediately. The families are absolutely devastated,” he said.
“Progress can be made – it’s just the  lack of funding. We know where the blame lies firmly at the doors of British secretary of   state Brokenshire and first Minister Arlene Foster ,I think the media needs to be asking these politicians why they feel  it is the way to be treating victims families in this disgraceful manner”