An inquest has found that all 10 people shot dead during operations by the British army in Ballymurphy in 1971 were innocent and that the killings were unjustified, confirming it as one of the bloodiest atrocities of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
Mrs Justice Keegan delivered her damning findings in a long-awaited coroner’s report on Tuesday. Families of those killed who have campaigned for decades to clear the names of their relatives wept, hugged and applauded.
They said what happened in Ballymurphy was a massacre.
The inquest examined the shooting of the 10, who included a parish priest and a mother of eight, during chaotic scenes in the streets of the small west Belfast neighbourhood between the evening of 9 August and the morning of 11 August 1971.
The inquest heard that some of the dead appeared to have been shot by members of the Parachute Regiment, the same regiment that five months later massacred protesters at County Derry on Bloody Sunday.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister, welcomed the findings. “All were innocent and today their families have been vindicated. For five decades they have campaigned with dignity and determination for the truth about what happened to their loved ones and despite all the setbacks they have kept going with such resilience and resolve. Today is their day; it is a day for truth.”
The inquest started in November 2018 and heard from more than 100 witnesses including experts in ballistics and pathology, the former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and more than 60 former soldiers, among them Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British army and chief of the general staff.
Publication of the findings falls on the same day the UK government was expected to unveil legislation to shield former soldiers from prosecution over alleged crimes committed during the Troubles, a prospect widely condemned in Northern Ireland. However there was no reference to any specific bill mentioned by the Queen during the state opening of parliament on Tuesday.
The families had maintained the dead were unarmed civilians and that the army falsely depicted them as armed IRA members, a narrative they say was perpetuated in decades of official obstruction and deceit.
Lawyers for the soldiers said the troops opened fire only when they perceived they were under threat.
Keegan, a high court judge, started reading the findings at 11am in the former Waterfront building, a Nightingale venue to support the courts service. Family representatives have scheduled a press conference at 4pm.
The August 1971 killings took place as troops swept through republican districts, rounding up suspects for internment without trial, a move that prompted violent protests across Northern Ireland.
Unlike the massacre in Derry in January 1972, TV crews and newspaper photographers were not present during the Ballymurphy killings.
The Ballymurphy Precedent, a 2018 documentary claiming that what happened in Belfast set the stage for Bloody Sunday, is to be broadcast by Channel 4 on Wednesday.