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MoD fail to stop Ballymurphy inquest going ahead

Ballymurphy Massacre Families at the High Court in Belfast. Ballymurphy Massacre Families at the High Court in Belfast.
By Brónach Ní Thuama

THE inquest into the deaths of 11 people in the Ballymurphy area of West Belfast over three days in August 1971 will go ahead despite last week’s attempt by the MoD to derail proceedings.

The inquest was due to open on Monday but will now most likely start in November.

Addressing the families during Thursday’s preliminary hearing, Judge Siobhan Keegan said: “This inquest is due to start on Monday 10th September, over the past year we have tried to keep it on track and due to the work of various bodies a lot of matters in this case have been kept on track.

“However, there is a problem with this case. There have been some developments recently.”

Last week the MoD handed over a database containing almost 5,000 names of former British soldiers to the Coroner’s Office.

Judge Keegan said: “Having considered the matter and particularly the issue of the MoD discovery, which only came to me last week, what I have decided to do was convene a meeting of all legal representatives this week, which we have already done.

“We set out where I saw the inquest going, what the problems were, what I want to happen going forward.

“It seems to me that there is broad agreement to a sensible approach going forward. Evidence won’t start on Monday.”

Judge Keegan continued: “I’m not going to be distracted from holding your inquest. I want to get on with it and I am also going to very actively case manage it, by holding a meeting with counsel every Monday.

“There is a bigger picture here, there is an overriding public interest in dealing with your inquest for the families of the deceased, you all have this hanging over your heads.

“I’m not going to let this case drift, I’m not going to adjourn it indefinitely, it’s too important.”

Discussing recent MoD revelations Judge Keegan said: “I do expect a more open and collaborative approach in relation to disclosure, there has been a real problem with this in this case.

“In particular I want to address this issue of the MoD disclosure I received late on 29th of August. I know this has caused annoyance and distress to the next of kin. It came very late in the day, you will be aware that I immediately sought some explanation for it. I did receive from, there was regret expressed in it but truly I can’t really understand why this information couldn’t have been provided earlier to the Coroner’s Service.

“It isn’t good enough to simply present an amount of material so late in the day, so close to a very important case. It’s just not acceptable, I want this information filtered in two weeks.

“The MoD should be under no illusions that this must happen. It’s not going to distract me from getting on with your inquest but I am expecting that there is a better practice going forward.

“I’m not going to sit here again and have this type of information given to me in this format.”

There will be a further preliminary hearing on Monday afternoon at 2.30pm.

Ten people were shot dead by the Parachute Regiment between 9-11 August 1971 in Ballymurphy, while an eleventh died of a heart attack after an altercation with British soldiers.

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