Monday, November 1, 2010
Ballymurphy Massacre Families seek new Inquests
Press Conference by Ballymurphy Families about submission to Attorney General
On Friday morning this blog travelled down to Belfast City centre for a brief meeting with the Attorney General. My purpose was to hand over to him two large folders containing information gathered by the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre which are the bulk of a submission being made to the Attorney General asking him to hold new inquests into the deaths of their loved ones.
The Ballymurphy Massacre happened 40 years ago next year. As regular readers will know in the 36 hours after the introduction of internment in August 1971 eleven people - ten men, including a local priest and a mother of eight children - were killed by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment in the Ballymurphy area.
The accounts of how the 11 died bears a striking similarity to the stories told by the Bloody Sunday families.
On Friday evening one local television news channel carried old black and white footage of the Henry Taggart British Army base on the Springfield Road which was at the centre of this massacre. The TV images showed heavily armed British troops rushing from the base and running across the road into Ballymurphy.
For those watching these images at home it must have seemed like something from the History Channel. But for the families of those killed the pain and grief, and desire for truth, is as if it was yesterday.
That is true for all of those hurt or bereaved during the war.
The families believe that the RUC or British Army’s Military Police did not properly investigate the killings. They also have grave concerns about the inquests that were carried out at that time. They believe that these inquests did not receive the facts of these events.
However, there have been significant changes to the inquest system. Inquests must now meet the international human rights standards for independence, effectiveness and promptness. Any new inquest would also present a chance for the families to fully participate.
The change to the inquest system, which demands that inquests must be Article 2 (European Convention on Human Rights) compliant occurred after 2002 when several families successfully brought their cause to Europe.
The European Court of Human Rights found that the British government and its agencies had repeatedly violated Article 2.
The new rules mean the families are entitled to full legal representation, forensic and ballistic experts, and are entitled to seek disclosure of information still withheld by the British government from them about the murder of their loved ones.
The reason why this matter can be taken up with a local Attorney General is because of the successful negotiations earlier this year for the transfer of policing and justice powers back to Ireland.
The Ballymurphy families have now spent many years carrying out their own inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones.
All of this has been gathered into the submission to the Attorney General. It includes inquest verdicts, autopsy reports, inquest depositions and statements by Royal Military Police personnel, RUC reports from the date of incident, the Catholic Church archive documents handed over to the families in July, and a preliminary report into the circumstances of the deaths of the deceased.
In addition new eyewitness statements have been taken and these will be presented to the Attorney General in the next few weeks.
The submission requests that the Attorney General review all of the available material and under Section 14 of The Coroner’s Act 1959, he agrees to reopen the inquests on the 11 victims.
As an independent legal expert appointed by the First and deputy First Minister and answerable to the local Assembly, the Attorney General will have to form his own independent assessment of the validity of the case put by the families for reopening the inquests.
A decision by the Attorney General to hold new inquests will provide an opportunity for families to uncover more of the facts surrounding the events of August 1971.
The effort to secure new inquests and an apology and acknowledgement of innocence for their family members, is not an alternative to the demand for an International Independent Investigation into the Ballymurphy Massacre.
That remains the focus of the families’ efforts but they see the submission for new inquests as a stage along the road to this goal.
The Ballymurphy families have been campaigning for justice for many years. Their courage and determination in the face of significant opposition from the British system is astonishing and inspiring.