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‘A big, black curtain came down on us’

JUSTICE: Kevin Phillips and sister Lily Shanks hold a photograph of their brother Noel JUSTICE: Kevin Phillips and sister Lily Shanks hold a photograph of their brother Noel
By Brónach Ní Thuama

Noel Phillips lived in Whitecliff Parade in the Ballymurphy area with his family. On August 9 1971 Noel and his friend Tommy Morgan were making their way home. There had been rioting throughout the day and it was now around 7:30pm. Whilst standing facing the Henry Taggart Army base, a number of soldiers from the Parachute Regiment came running out with guns on their hips and opened fire.

Everybody ran for their lives. Noel ran down into the field in front of the Henry Taggart Army base, he was shot and dropped to the ground. Some time later an army vehicle entered the field and two soldiers got out, both soldiers were armed, one with an SLR rifle and the other with a 9mm Browning High-Power pistol.

Eyewitnesses watched in horror as the soldier with the pistol opened fire on Noel as he lay on the ground – he was 19-years-old.

Noel’s autopsy report found that he had been shot once behind each ear – a well-known soldier’s execution.

The Andersonstown News met with Noel’s brother Kevin Phillips to hear the family’s story.

“He was a quiet kid, a good lad, he didn’t deserve what happened to him, none of them did,” said Kevin.

“There were eight of us kids growing up, our parents Robert and Margaret had separated so the parenting was really left to our older siblings.

“Noel was never involved in anything – he wasn’t political and he wasn’t rioting, he was only a spectator. Anyone would have been, at that age if you heard trouble you would go for a nosey, that’s all he was doing. He was a kid doing what kids do.

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was trying to make his way home through Springfield Park at the Manse field when they shot him. It was years later we found out that he was executed.”

Kevin was 15-years-old when his brother was murdered and he says it tore his family apart.

“It was years later when we learnt what really happened to our poor Noel and it made me sick to my stomach. It tore our family apart at the time but it’s years down the line when certain things start to hit you and certain emotions start to take over.

“Noel worked as an apprentice barman then he became a window cleaner. He loved his style, he was always in his Wranglers and was very conscious of his appearance. He was a complete hygiene freak, he loved football, handball and swimming.
“He was so quiet and sedate, really easy going and got on with everybody. No-one could say a bad word about him.”

Describing how the family found out about Noel’s murder Kevin said: “On the ninth night (of August) me and my sister Marion were lying sleeping in the living room, we knew at this stage our Noel mustn’t be coming in, it was around midnight.

“The next day news filtered through about the deaths and that’s how we found out. My mummy took it really bad, she was never the same from it, she changed. She used to be very easy going and laid back but her personality completely changed.

“My older brother Robert and sister Lily took on the parenting, there was a lot put on their shoulders. Our family were already fractured with the break-up of our parents but this completely blew us apart, we never recovered.”

Describing life after Noel’s death Kevin said: “It was as if a big, black, heavy curtain just came down on top of everyone, the atmosphere in the house just changed.

“My brother and brother-in-law went to identify Noel’s body. They came back in a terrible state, nothing was ever the same from that point.

“It might have been forty-seven years ago but to me it was like yesterday. I remember it as clear, then again there are other parts I can’t remember.

“The trauma is terrible when you go through something like that. Back then no-one had ever heard of counselling so we bottled it all up and tried to deal with it ourselves.”

Kevin continued: “We never spoke about our Noel’s murder and we never asked our older brother Robert about identifying his body. He never spoke about it right up until the day he died. Robert was 27 when Noel died, he was more like our father, he kept us in line.

“I remember the funeral going down Ballymurphy Road, it reached the Whiterock junction and there were soldiers standing there laughing, it was as if they were celebrating. They were getting enjoyment out of our suffering.

“Noel was murdered on the Monday and his funeral was on the Friday. One question that always sticks in my mind was why was Noel brought to Lagan Bank morgue, why was he not brought to the Royal? Surely he should have been brought there, that’s the closest hospital.”

Although not initially involved in the Ballymurphy Massacre campaign, Kevin said he stepped up once his older brother Robert passed away.

“I took over the campaigning when our Robert passed away, he was doing it for years, God help him. We’ve been in and out of courts for years and we will continue to do it until our loved one’s names are cleared.

“We’ve sat in court and listened to the Ministry of Defense and their dirty tricks where they claim they can’t find witnesses and soldiers. We’ve listened to the lies told about them, how they were gunmen and women. Bad enough they slaughtered them but in death they tried to tarnish their reputations.

“I often wonder what they (the soldiers) told their families afterwards, did they portray themselves as heroes to their children after they came over here and murdered ours?

“I don’t want an apology, I’m not interested, it’s too little, too late. I want justice. I want their names cleared, that’s what all the Ballymurphy Massacre families want, and it’s coming, make no mistake about it.”

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